How a heart attack changed David’s life…

David Jones is an area manager for Goodwill, and sometimes his job requires that he drive to Tacoma for meetings. One Sunday, about four years ago, he did just that, heading out a day early so he could be ready to go the next morning.

On the drive west, however, David didn’t feel well. “I thought it was indigestion, heartburn. And I was a little nauseous,” he says.

But David, 59, had a job to do. He attended the meeting and drove himself home afterward. By this time, though, David was quite ill. “When I got home I was vomiting. I was white as a sheet, and I was in a cold sweat.”

David knew something was horribly wrong. His daughter called 911, but she couldn’t get through. All the circuits from her cell network provider were busy. David and his daughter began to panic.  “We could have used my phone, but we weren’t thinking,” he says. “I drove myself in. I wouldn’t even let my daughter do it. But, I have to say, if you want service in the Emergency Department, go in there clutching your chest,” he says, finding a sliver of humor in the most frightening day of his life.

The result? Three days in the hospital. Two stents (installed by Dr. Thomas McLaughlin of the Yakima Heart Center). 99 percent blockage in the main artery. David had a heart attack.

“It really changes your life,” he says quietly over a cup of coffee. “Before this I used to think, how do I get more money in my 401K? How do I get a bigger boat? And afterward I thought, when was the last time I told my wife I love her?

“It changed my whole perspective.”

David’s two daughters and a Virginia Mason Memorial nurse, who was now off-duty, stayed with David until his wife, Lori, could get to the hospital.

“The key takeaway for me was life-changing,” he says.

David, a longtime heavy smoker, immediately quit cigarettes. It was also discovered that he was prediabetic. But, he said to himself, “that’s one pill I’m not going to take.” David and Lori, in support, started attending Virginia Mason Memorial’s year-long Diabetes Prevention Program. They learned how to calculate the fat grams, and to incorporate more fruit, vegetables and yogurt into their diet.

They got hooked on the program, and then became competitive in their quest for good health.

“We didn’t start exercising right away, but then we started going to the YMCA three or four times a week, working out on the treadmill, track and with weights. I lost 35 pounds, and my wife lost over 40!

“We swear by the Diabetes Prevention Program.

“What happened to me was a gift, because I had the classic widow-maker. If you’re anybody — man, woman — and you have symptoms, go to the Emergency Department.

“I had no pain in my arm, but it felt like a cramp in my chest. The doctor asked me when the pain started, and I told him, “About two weeks into Mariners season.” Then I was out, in full cardiac arrest. We joked that those would have been my final words.

“But that was four years ago.”

Joint Commission recognizes Memorial Hospital as Top Performer

Accreditation honors Memorial for quality care in 4 areas:
heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care

YAKIMA — Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital has been recognized as a Top Performer on Key Quality Measures® for 2013 by The Joint Commission, the leading accreditation entity of health care organizations in the United States.

The announcement recognizes Memorial as a top performer in four areas: heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care.

“It is a testament to our exemplary physicians and staff at Memorial to be recognized as a Top Performer by The Joint Commission,” Memorial CEO Russ Myers says. “To be specifically recognized in the areas of heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care speaks to the dedication that each and every employee places on ensuring safe, high-quality care for our patients and visitors.”

The Joint Commission accredits and certifies more than 20,500 health care organizations and programs in the United States, including hospitals and health care organizations that provide ambulatory and office-based surgery, behavioral health, home care, laboratory and nursing home services. An independent, not-for-profit organization, The Joint Commission is the nation’s oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care.

The Top Performer program supports health care organizations in their quest to improve programs and service to patients. The program is based on data reported in the previous year about evidence-based clinical processes that are shown to be the best treatments for certain conditions, including heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia, surgical care, children’s asthma, inpatient psychiatric services, stroke and immunization.

The results, released Thursday in The Joint Commission’s 2014 annual report, “America’s Hospitals: Improving Quality and Safety,” are based on data reported by more than 3,300 Joint Commission accredited hospitals in 2013. Overall, the Joint Commission recognized 1,224 hospitals across the country with the 2013 Top Performer distinction. Memorial is one of 17 Washington state hospitals so recognized, and one of just nine in the state recognized in more than three clinical areas.

The full report can be found here:


Live near a busy road?

Oct. 19, 2014—There’s no denying that living near a noisy, crowded roadway can be annoying. But that’s not all. If you’re a woman, it could also put your heart health in jeopardy, according to findings of a new American Heart Association study. (Men, you’re not off the hook: The study was limited to women, so more research is needed.)

About the study

For middle-aged and elderly women, living in close proximity to a major road may increase their risk of dying from sudden cardiac arrest—that’s when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and stops beating without warning. If not treated promptly, death can be the result.

Researchers studied data from over 100,000 women collected from 1988 to 2012 and calculated participants’ residential distance to roadways. After adjusting for factors like age, race, smoking, diet and physical activity, they found that women who lived within 164 feet (the width of a soccer field) of a major road were 38 percent more likely to experience sudden cardiac death compared to those who lived at least 0.3 miles away. Each 328-foot (just less than a football field) increase in proximity to a major road increased risk of sudden cardiac death by 6 percent.

The results suggest that where you live could play as much of a role in your heart health as factors like smoking, diet or obesity. The culprit, experts said, may be air pollution, which is associated with increased inflammation and oxidative stress. Exposure to stressful noise caused by traffic, which is linked to heart rate and cardiac input, could also be a factor.

Still, researchers caution that more work is needed to fully understand how roadway exposure affects heart health. This study was unable to measure every possible risk factor associated with living near a major road. And it didn’t examine traffic’s effects on men and women of different ages and races.

Read the full study here.

The take-home message
Living near a major roadway may increase the risk for sudden cardiac death. The culprit, in part, may have to do with heightened exposure to particle pollution. Particle pollution is made up of tiny, sometimes invisible pieces of things—like dirt, dust, soot or smoke—that are in the air.Breathing in particle pollution may increase your risk for a heart attack (which increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest) if you have heart disease. On poor air quality days when particle pollution is high, consider:

  • Spending more time inside
  • Avoiding busy roads and highways
  • Choosing activities that don’t force you to breathe as hard. For instance, choosing to walk instead of run.

Minimizing exposure to air pollution is just one of the many steps you can take to protect your heart. Regardless of where you live, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and managing stress all play a role in keeping your heart healthy.


Improve recovery for younger heart attack patients with social support

Oct. 17, 2014—If you know a young or middle-aged person who’s had a heart attack, make a point of offering your support. Without social support from their family and friends, younger patients are more likely to have depression and other risk factors for ongoing cardiac disease, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

About the study

In this study, 3,432 male and female heart attack patients, ages 18 to 55, were surveyed at one month after their heart attacks and again at 12 months after. They answered questions about how much social support they had. The researchers defined social support as the perception of having family or friends who do one or more of the following:

  • Provide companionship and act as confidants
  • Offer advice and information
  • Display emotional concern
  • Give financial or material support

The surveys revealed that 728 (21 percent) of the patients had low social support. Compared with patients who had moderate or high social support, these 728 men and women were more likely to smoke and abuse alcohol. They also tended to be single, unemployed and living alone.

One month after having a heart attack, patients with low social support were more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes and depression—known risk factors for heart disease.

On average, both one month and 12 months after a heart attack, patients who claimed low social support also reported lower mental functioning, lower quality of life and more symptoms of depression.

Previous studies have shown that, compared to older adults, younger men and women in general require larger social networks to maintain a sense of well-being. In addition, their support networks tend to have fewer family members but more friends and co-workers. Yet their stage of life—which often includes dealing with work stress and raising kids—can compromise these support networks.

For women, low social support may be, in part, the result of a tendency to put their role as caretaker for others ahead of taking care of their own health , according to background information in the study.

With or without social support, heart attack patients between 18 and 55 have a low mortality rate. But this study suggests that without sufficient social support, younger patients may experience other negative health outcomes and could benefit from more support from friends and family to reduce their risk.

To learn more, read the full study.

The take-home message
Friends can mean a lot to a heart attack patient—especially those who are younger. Your companionship to someone surviving a heart attack could improve the way he or she recovers. To provide concrete support to someone who has had a heart attack, consider:

  • Delivering a heart-healthy home-cooked meal
  • Lending an ear, on the phone or in person
  • Offering to walk together regularly
  • Giving financial support if it is needed
  • Providing transportation to doctors’ appointments
  • Helping your friend find community resources for home care

If you are struggling with social support after surviving a heart attack, you may want to consider joining a support group to meet people and learn more about coping with heart disease.

Depression can raise the risk for future cardiac problems, so it’s important to seek treatment.


Heart attack: Calling 911 can improve time to treatment

Oct. 14, 2014—If you thought you were having a heart attack, would you call 911 for help? Or would you find some other way to get to the hospital?

You should call 911. You’re likely to initiate faster treatment by having an ambulance called to the scene than if you were to wait until arriving at the emergency room by other means.

That wisdom has been reaffirmed by a study published in the journal Cardiovascular Revascularization Medicine. It found that how you get to the hospital during a heart attack could determine how quickly can begin to receive life-saving treatment.

Differences measured in hours

Researchers reviewed the emergency department records at a Washington, District of Columbia, hospital from 2007 through 2012. They looked at those who came to the emergency department because of a heart attack—specifically, a severe heart attack caused by a fully blocked heart artery. The study involved 309 people total.

Of those, 83 arrived by ambulance and 226 came by self-transport, including driving themselves, being brought in by a friend or relative, or arriving by taxi or public transportation.

The researchers looked at how much time elapsed for each patient from the start of symptoms until artery-opening treatment. They further broke down symptom-to-treatment time into five midpoints—for example, the time from having symptoms to arriving at the emergency department and the time spent in being assessed (triaged) at the hospital.

The researchers then compared the timelines of ambulance riders to self-transporters.

Some of the most significant findings:

  • Symptoms to arrival. It took nearly twice as long for self-transporters to arrive at the hospital than for ambulance riders.
  • Time in emergency department. Self-transporters spent twice as much time in triage as ambulance riders.
  • Arrival to treatment. While more than 80 percent of ambulance riders received treatment within the recommended time of less than 90 minutes, only approximately 54 percent of self-transporters were treated within the recommended time.

You can read the full study here.

Why calling 911 makes such a difference

The hospital didn’t give special treatment to people who arrived by ambulance. Both ambulance riders and self-transporters had to be processed through the emergency department. Once patients made it through triage, the timelines for the two groups became similar.

But the people who called 911 arrived with a number of advantages:

  • The ambulance’s emergency medical technicians (EMTs) immediately provided aid that continued until they arrived at the hospital.
  • The EMTs called the hospital in advance, allowing staff to prepare for a patient having a heart attack.
  • Triage was shortened because the EMTs had already supplied much of the information needed.


The take-home message
Call 911 if you suspect a heart attack. You can learn about the symptoms using this infographic.

A heart attack isn’t a static event. The damage to your heart worsens with each passing minute. The quicker you get help, the better your chances of survival.


Flu vaccine may help protect against heart attack, stroke

People who are at risk for being hospitalized for, or dying from, a heart attack or stroke can significantly reduce that risk with a yearly flu vaccination, according to a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Benefits of the vaccine were most pronounced in people at the highest risk for such cardiovascular events.

The study’s lead author called the findings “very provocative.”

“Only about 50 percent of the general public actually get their seasonal flu vaccine, for a myriad of reasons,” said Jacob A. nbsp;Udell, MD, of the University of Toronto.

He said he hoped the findings can convince people of the importance of influenza vaccination—for keeping the flu at bay as well as for other health issues.


About the study

Researchers gathered information from previous randomized clinical trials that focused on people at risk for heart attacks, unstable angina, stroke, heart failure, blood clots and heart arrhythmias and the effect of flu vaccination or a placebo.

The authors reviewed six studies involving a total of 6,735 patients. The average age was 67, and more than a third of the people had a history of serious heart problems.

Some of the findings:

  • In five studies, 4.7 percent of people who did not get a flu vaccine developed a major heart problem within one year, compared to 2.9 percent of those who were vaccinated.
  • Among people with a recent history of heart disease, the risk for a serious cardiovascular event within a year was 23.1 percent without vaccination, compared to 10.3 percent for those who were vaccinated.
The take-home message
Previous studies have suggested that seasonal flu-like (respiratory) illnesses can trigger cardiovascular problems—particularly in people with previously stable vascular disease, the authors noted. It’s not clear why this is true, they wrote. It’s possible that the viral infection triggers a rupture of plaque buildup in the arteries, causing a clot. Infection in the lungs may add to fluid buildup that worsens heart failure.

The authors urged further research with a large-scale clinical trial to confirm whether something as inexpensive and safe as a yearly flu shot could indeed be a significant part of treatment for this high-risk population.

“This finding has considerable clinical and health policy importance, given the profound underuse of vaccination among the general public and the potential impact this preventive strategy may have on high-risk patients,” they concluded.

What should you know about the flu season? Visit the Flu health topic center.