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Initiative aims to improve care for heart attack patients

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new American Heart Association initiative aims to reduce the number of people in West Virginia who die of heart attacks.

Health-care officials and emergency medical service providers from around the state met Friday at the West Virginia Lottery building to kick off Mission: Lifeline.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and in West Virginia. The Mountain State also has the highest prevalence of people who report that a doctor told them they previously suffered a heart attack, according to the heart association.

The aim of the Mission: Lifeline initiative is to improve the system of care for heart attack patients -- from EMS to hospitals.

"It really is about making sure the system works," said Mayme Roettig, the assistant director of the Center for Educational Excellence at Duke University's Clinical Research Institute. Roettig, who grew up in Charleston and attended nursing school at the University of Charleston, has been a driving force for the national Mission: Lifeline program and was on hand for the rollout of the local initiative Friday.

Roettig has a personal reason for her interest in improving the health-care system for cardiac patients: Her brother died at 37 of a heart attack.

Roettig said the goal of the program is to create two plans of care for heart-attack patients: one for EMS and one for hospitals and doctors.

"You don't need CAMC competing with Thomas, or St. Mary's competing with Cabell, right?" she said. "Everybody needs to work together so that this life-threatening event can be managed just like trauma."

Health officials met for the first work session Friday immediately following a news conference announcing the initiative. They'll also be working on a way to educate state residents on the signs and symptoms of heart attack and when to seek medical help.

Symptoms of a heart attack include chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back, and discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach, and shortness of breath. Symptoms might also include a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

The Bernard McDonough Foundation, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation are local sponsors of the initiative, said Kevin Pauley, a spokesman for the local AHA.

One of the first goals the group has is to hire an executive director for Mission: Lifeline. Pauley said a director would be hired in the near future.

West Virginia, as do other rural states, has challenges to getting patients to hospitals quickly, said Dr. Carl McComas, a board member for the Great Rivers Affiliate of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. In a rural county like Pocahontas, for instance, it may take EMS a half-hour or hour to get a patient to the hospital, he said.

McComas said ideally it would take an hour to be treated from the time the patient calls EMS. The national average is about an hour and a half, he said.

Roettig said she expects good things from the initiative.

"I am thrilled that this is coming to West Virginia," she said. "These are really hardworking people, the backbone of the U.S."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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