In the five-parish area, only a handful of hospitals have fully-functioning, 24-hour staffed cath labs. When a person outside of the lake area has a heart attack, that situation truly becomes life-threatening with state-of-the-art healthcare several miles away.
A newly launched network is changing the way cardiologists connect to rural cardiac patients.
From South Cameron to DeRidder, Leesville to Kinder, DeQuincy to Jennings - and all of the rural communities between them - there is a new care plan in place in the event of a major heart attack, born out of a need CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital interventional cardiologist, Dr. Thomas Mulhearn, saw first-hand. "We have a large rural population in Southwest Louisiana," he said, "and this is a network to try to get those patients to a place where they can be taken care of quickly."
It is called a "STEMI Network," named after the most serious type of heart attack, commonly called a "widow maker." Dr. Mulhearn explains, "ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction, which is a major heart attack caused by an occluded artery in the heart."
Balloon angioplasty or stent is the ideal treatment in these cases. That is something not readily available in many rural communities and the reason that Director of Cardiovascular Services, Tim Bean says smaller hospitals are agreeing to partner with the STEMI Network. "We've already been out to a number of hospitals in the community and the rural areas just to get them on board and had a wonderful response," said Bean.
Here is how the STEMI Network operates: when a person has a heart attack, an EMS or ER team will get an electrocardiogram to determine the type of heart attack.
If it Is a major cardiac event, a call is made to the STEMI Network line. "That call goes to me and it goes to my cell phone or whoever the cardiologist is on call," said Dr. Mulhearn, "and immediately the cath lab is activated."
As soon as the patient arrives at the Regional Heart Center, the cardiologist already has his or her patient information on hand and a room ready to go, expediting that intervention process. "We've spoken with either the referring EMS provider or referring physician, we know what's going on with the patient," said Dr. Mulhearn, "usually we've seen the electrocardiogram and we have a team ready to take care of them right away."
That speedy response saves the heart muscle and improves the recovery process for the patient. "Time is muscle, so the quicker we can get the patient from out there in the rural area into our cath lab, the better the outcomes we have for the patient," said Bean.
If the transfer time is longer than 60 minutes to CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital, the patient will be brought to the closest emergency room and be given clot-busting drugs, then be transferred for heart catheterization.