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News: Centegra’s No. 1 heart message: Call 911 for chest pain

If someone is having chest pain or other heart attack symptoms such as shortness of breath, the accredited chest pain centers at Centegra Health System have one message: Call 911 immediately. Do not drive.

“People tend to wait when they think they might be having a heart attack and that’s a mistake,” said Dr. Douglas Tomasian, medical director of cardiology for Centegra Physician Care and director of the cardiac catheterization lab for Centegra Health System. “The average patient arrives in the emergency department more than two hours after the onset of symptoms but what they don’t realize is that the sooner a heart attack is treated, the less damage to the heart and the better the outcome for the patient.”

When a person calls 911, the region’s emergency medical services providers respond within minutes. Paramedics perform an EKG on the scene and communicate with Centegra Health System’s emergency departments to set the heart team response in motion. By the time the ambulance arrives at the emergency department, the team is already prepared to provide advanced cardiac treatments to the patient.

When a large myocardial infarction (heart attack) occurs, an artery supplying the heart often has closed abruptly. The most recent statistics from Centegra show just why a person should call 911. Compared to a national benchmark of 90 minutes, in December 2013 the average time from a person’s arrival in the emergency department at Centegra Hospital-McHenry until his artery was opened in the catheterization laboratory was just 40 minutes (known as door-to-balloon time). These blocked arteries can be opened with a minimally invasive procedure utilizing angioplasty and often a stent is placed in the artery. This restores blood flow and limits the damage from the heart attack, saving patients’ lives.

“While our treatment numbers far exceed the benchmark, the community needs to understand that heart attack care can start before you arrive at the hospital if you call 911,” Tomasian said. “In December just 25 percent of the heart attack patients at Centegra Hospital-McHenry arrived by ambulance. That means they either drove themselves or were driven to the hospital. They missed valuable treatment time. Heart muscle doesn’t wait.”

As Centegra continues to advance its telehealth strategies, patients are receiving even faster cardiac care when they call 911 for chest pain. Paramedics perform an EKG at the scene and transmit the EKG to emergency department staff. In the past two weeks, a patient with chest pain called 911 in Woodstock. The patient was brought directly into the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Centegra Hospital-McHenry with a door-to-balloon time of just 24 minutes. Because the patient called 911, there were only 70 minutes between the first medical contact and angioplasty.

“There is nobody in the region that can provide such outstanding heart care in such a short amount of time,” said Sarah Vela, a registered and certified nurse and chest pain coordinator with Centegra Health System. “Our collaboration with paramedics helps patients receive exceptional cardiac care within minutes of calling 911.”

The machines that transmit the EKG results to Centegra’s emergency departments were purchased in 2010 with funds from the Centegra Health System Foundation. Through  gifts from the community, emergency vehicles throughout McHenry County received transmitters to EKG results to cardiologists prior to a patient’s arrival, reducing the amount of time before lifesaving treatment can begin. For more information about heart care at Centegra Health System visit

Centegra Health System is committed to meeting the health care needs of the residents of McHenry County and to making services available in multiple and convenient locations, including hospitals in McHenry and Woodstock, Immediate and Physician Care Centers, Centegra Sage Cancer Center, Health Bridge Fitness Centers and the highly anticipated Centegra Hospital-Huntley.

As the region’s leading health care provider, Centegra Health System continues to bring the latest treatments and technology, along with the skills of nearly 4,000 medical professionals, to meet the needs of the growing McHenry County community. For more information on Centegra Health System visit Facebook and Twitter or call 877-CENTEGRA (877-236-8347).