ambulanceThe Midwest Affiliate of the American Heart Association has won a grant from a national foundation to implement a system to bring faster treatment for the most serious heart attacks to 88 counties in Iowa.

The system is called “Mission Lifeline,” and project director Heather Maier says it involves a high-tech connection between emergency medical personnel in the field and heart specialists in hospitals. “It’s a heart monitor that does a 12-lead ECG, and what that does, it looks at the heart from 12 different angles, helping providers determine where the muscle damage  is occurring in the heart during the heart attack,” Maier explains.

The system sends that information to the hospital, and lets heart specialists begin analyzing the type of blockage that cause the heart attack as the patient is transported via ambulance or helicopter. “Many hospitals have a heart attack alert system already in place, they can trigger that and it decreases the amount of time from the time when the patient hits the door with the ambulance until they are actually there in the cath lab and they get that vessel opened up and get blood back to that part of the heart that has been damage,” Maier says.

They use the phrase “minutes mean muscle” when it comes to quickly getting a heart attack patient into treatment. The goal is to get a patient to the hospital and into treatment in 90 minutes from the time the heart attack is reported in areas where there are hospitals that can do the heart procedures. In rural areas, the goal is 120 minutes.

Maier says part of ”Mission Lifeline” will be to educate the public of the importance of calling 911 at the first signs of heart attack, to get emergency workers to you. She says the first impulse of most people is to get to the hospital without calling for help. “I can get myself there faster, my wife can get me there faster, and you know what? In minutes it’s true, your wife can get you there faster,” Maier says. “However, she cannot provide any of this initial diagnostic and medical care that can happen on the ambulance.”

Maier says while there could be a short wait for the emergency medical personnel, the treatment they provide is most important. “They can also get this 12-lead ECG in the hands of the physician must faster than you coming in your car,” Maier says.

The Leona and Harry Helmsley Charitable Trust provided the Heart Association with the $4.6 million grant to help equip ambulances with the technology and to train responders how to use it and educate the public on what they need to do. “Many A-L-S Ambulances have the device already, we’re emphasizing the outreach into the rural areas to make sure all rural EMS services have the capabilities  to do the 12-lead ECG,” according to Maier.

She says the cost of the technology has kept emergency crews in rural areas from getting the technology. “They’re expensive, so going forward we want to help alleviate that and make sure that they have the right equipment at the right time,” Maier says. She says they also want to ensure the hospitals have the ability to receive the information.

Gerd Clabaugh

Gerd Clabaugh

The Iowa Department of Public Health is also working with the Heart Association to get the system rolling. DPH director, Gerd Clabaugh, says 9,000 Iowans die every year from some form of heart disease, including heart attacks. “To the degree that we can improve responsiveness among EMS services and hospitals to improve those numbers — every life has a major impact — and so this will be a great investment toward improving the health of Iowans,” Clabaugh says.

He says the department will help in spreading the word about the program. “We’ll be involved along the way in terms of working with the EMS services to make them aware of the opportunity, helping them apply for funds and communicate about the opportunity,” Clabaugh says.

Maier says the system has been used in other states and they have seen good results in treating heart attack patients faster and reducing the impact on the patients.  They will begin working with area hospitals and emergency responder organizations soon. For more information, go to: