Ask the BJC Expert

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Heart Health - When to call 911

Yvette Frazier, supervisor of cardiac services

Published on Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Yvette Frazier is the supervisor of cardiac services at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital. Here, she answers questions about when to call 911 from KFAV's Mike Thomas.

Why do you urge people to dial 911 instead of just, well I'm just going to jump in the car and go to the hospital and get checked out when they have signs or symptoms of a heart attack?

Well as soon as you call 911, the medical staff arrives and EMS can begin care right away for your heart. They can take all the necessary steps to make sure that they inform the emergency room of what they're finding they get the emergency room to then activate the specially-trained team and they get them ready so that we can get you taken care of quickly. We have a little saying in the cath lab and that's "time is muscle." It's all about saving that.. every minute counts.

What if you live close to the hospital though... say a couple blocks away?

Well, the thing there is you still need to call 911. Driving yourself can put other people at risk around you.  Many things can happen: Your heart could stop, you could go into a deadly rhythm, you could pass out... all this while you're driving. If you have someone else you want to drive you to the hospital it's the same thing. Kind of think about how they would react if you suddenly lose consciousness on the way to the hospital.

Let's talk about sings and symptoms because usually when we talk about a heart attack I think most of us think about the dramatic.. it hits you hard, it knocks you to your knees.. and obviously that can I guess occur but there are other you know less significant signs and symptoms to be aware of. Talk about some of those if you would.

Exactly. There are many other symptoms and we usually say that it can be like a persistent, sudden onset like you're talking drop you to your knees, chest pain or pressure... but sometimes it's the kind of pain that spreads. It can spread to your jaw, it can spread to your shoulders, your neck, your back. You can also all of a sudden feel like you're having like a shortness of breath or break out into a cold sweat or feel nauseous or light-headed. All that kind of onset means you need to get on the phone and call 911 immediately.

A lot of us are skeptical, a lot of us are non-believers. We don't believe it can happen to us. What do you tell people that are still skeptical and even if they are having issues they believe they can get treatment quicker than EMS.

I have a little bit of statistics here. There's about 750,000 people that have a heart attack each and every year. Sadly, about 116 of those victims have died. That is way too many. Nationwide, health care is trying to get the word out dialing 911 is truly your best and first step that you should take. There's the American Heart Association that says, "call 911 and live." There's another campaign for "don't die of doubt" and "make the call, don't miss a beat." There's a population out there that just does not want the attention of the lights, the sirens, and everything going on at their house and their neighbors... you know a perfect saying to that is "don't be embarrassed to death."

That's a good point I would rather see lights and sirens than be playing a harp.. you know.

Exactly, it's so much better to be safe than sorry because time is muscle and the sooner that we can get you to the hospital, get our next step, get the cath lab, get blood restored to that artery, the better your chance of survival. Even helping to prevent permanent damage that can happen to your heart.

So, if folks have any questions and want a little bit more information and how the whole process works, is there a number they can call?

Absolutely, absolutely. You can call our number 636.928.WELL. That would go directly where they need to get and we have information all throughout. You can get your blood pressure checked at our various heart kiosks across St. Charles County.   


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