WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center physicians are part of a statewide study on the treatment of chest pain patients that has standardized care and reduced the time it takes to unblock the coronary artery of a person having a heart attack.
“Our study standardized the care that patients receive in small community hospitals that refer heart attack patients to larger hospitals for treatment,” said Professor James W. Hoekstra, M.D., chairman of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist. “We measured all of the times to treatment before and after putting the protocol in place and the difference was incredible. All of the times were shortened.”
Part of the research team, Hoekstra and Robert J. Applegate, M.D., professor of cardiology, were eager to help establish a coordinated statewide system to treat heart attack patients faster and therefore save more lives. Surprisingly, there was no such program in place—despite the fact that coronary heart disease, including its acute manifestation, heart attack—is the No. 1 cause of death worldwide.
In the study, coordinators were dispatched to referring hospitals in regions from the mountains to the coast to instruct caregivers in emergency departments to respond to heart attack patients in a uniform manner. The educational component of the study came not a moment too soon for 60-year old Stuart Peters of Advance, who experienced heart attack symptoms while clearing timber on property being donated for construction of a Habitat for Humanity home in March.
“He was taken to Davie County Hospital where he was diagnosed and treated immediately with drugs to help unblock his clogged coronary artery,” said his wife Becky Peters a retired registered nurse.
Once stabilized, Peters was transported to Wake Forest Baptist for further care.
“His cardiologist told me his right main coronary artery was completely blocked and had he not been treated within the first ten to fifteen minutes he would have died.”
The work done by Hoekstra and Applegate was part of a statewide research project called Reperfusion of Acute myocardial infarction in North Carolina Emergency departments (RACE). (Reperfusion means the restoration of blood flow. An acute myocardial infarction or heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart is interrupted causing damage or even the death of heart muscle.) It was conducted in 65 hospitals across the state.
The results of the study were published in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,154 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.