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Call 911 in a cardiac crisis


After a morning walk and bike ride on Aug. 8, 2020, Rusty Russell headed for the sofa.
“I was lying on my couch,” Russell, 63, says. “I didn’t feel well. I felt like throwing up. I didn’t have chest pains. I just felt nauseous.”
So, he took a shower and lay down to rest. When Judy Russell later went to check on her husband, he was in cardiac arrest.
 “She found me with blue lips and not breathing” he says, “I was gone. I died multiple times that morning. They said I arrested 12 times.”
Judy Russell had been cleaning the kitchen when she thought to check on him.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, good, he is asleep and resting, and it will help him feel better,’” she says. “Something said, ‘You need to go check on him closer. I watched him for a second. I could tell he wasn’t breathing. I touched him. There was no response. He wasn’t breathing. I called 911, and they walked me through CPR.”
Soon, Cumberland County EMS first responders were there, and paramedics used defibrillator paddles in the living room. Then he was in an ambulance, equipped with EKG state-of-the-art software equipment and cardiac technology, en route to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. There, Manoj Bhandari, M.D. and Stephen Ginn, M.D., with Cape Fear Cardiology Associates, would place a stent in Rusty Russell’s blocked artery.

LIFENET a Lifesaver
Brian Langston is director of Cape Fear Valley Mobile Integrated Healthcare, which operates three EMS agencies – Cumberland County EMS, Hoke County EMS and LifeLink Specialty Care Transport, which operates helicopter transport for the Cape Fear region.
 “A paramedic-staffed ambulance has individuals and tools that are able to accurately assess and identify heart emergencies such as a STEMI,” Langston says.

STEMI is a common name for ST-elevation myocardial infarction, a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), and caused by a prolonged period of blocked blood supply that affects a large area of the heart. STEMI has a substantial risk of death and disability, according to the AHA, and calls for a quick response.

“Once identified through the use of the portable EKG monitors, they have the ability to transmit the EKG to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center for a physician to review and confirm that the heart attack is occurring,” Langston says. “The paramedics can also administer aspirin, nitroglycerin, pain medications and oxygen, all of which as a treatment bundle help reduce the symptoms of a heart attack, can relieve pain and improve patient outcomes.”

uipment has been a staple in EMS transport ambulances since 2012, thanks to funding from the Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation.

“The foundation provided the initial EKG equipment on the EMS vehicles in 2012 for a cost of $76,000,” says Sabrina Brooks, Executive Director for the Foundation. “This equipment was made possible through contributions from the community to the Foundation.”

LIFENET drastically reduces the time between when the patient begins feeling chest pains to treatment in the hospital’s Catheterization Lab. And because time is muscle, patients experience a greater chance of survivability and improved quality of life.

“This is one of the projects the Foundation is extremely proud to have been a part of, because it enhanced the standard of care in our community, when it comes to cardiac arrests,” Brooks says. “This project epitomizes the vision of the Foundation to improve the health and wellness of the community.”

Langston says the LIFENET software equipment is life-saving and the reason why anyone experiencing chest pains or related heart issues should immediately call 911. No matter where you reside in the service region, if you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, Cape Fear Valley Health is here for you.
“These resources are not restricted to Cumberland and Hoke County residents,” Langston says. “As a Primary Heart Attack Center, Cape Fear Valley Health has developed plans to get patients who are experiencing heart attacks across the Cape Fear region into our Cath Labs quickly. We have added helicopters in strategic locations that allow us to travel further and faster to bring patients to Cape Fear Valley. We have partnered with Harnett Health to build a Cath Lab for diagnostic studies to be completed in the Harnett communities to identify heart problems before they become a heart attack, and we work with referring hospitals and EMS partners.”
Don’t delay … call 911

Michelle Keasling, Corporate Cardiac Service Line Director for Cape Fear Valley Health, will be the first to tell you that if you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, time is of the essence.
“We know it is important to have patients call 911 because it is linked with improved survival,” Keasling says. “Speaking with a call-taker gets help to you faster, and the call-takers are all trained on instructions they can give you or a loved one for heart attack care. If you drive yourself or have someone drive you, then valuable time is lost.”

With a 911 call, Keasling says, medical first responders in Cumberland County and Hoke County can be on-site within five minutes of the call.

“Our first medical contact time of a medical responder in your home to PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention) is less than 64 minutes on average,” Keasling says. “This means that from the time help arrives in your home, EMS can stabilize you, give you medication and oxygen if you need it, obtain EKG data and send it to the hospital and notify the Emergency Department they are coming with a heart attack victim.”

The EKG, she says, is critical.

“The Emergency Department receives it and is able to have a physician interpret it and pull up any prior EKGs to compare it,” Keasling says. “In addition, we can send the EKG to the cardiologist, who can then look at it and see what part of the heart is affected and begin to plan for the procedure, all before the patient arrives. Our treatment times for heart attack are the best in the state, offering you the best care you can get right here at home.”

‘Time was everything … I’m doing great’
Today, Rusty Russell is back to his morning walks, with Judy by his side.
He counts his blessings.

“I’m doing great,” Rusty Russell says. “Dr. Bhandari and Dr. Ginn put a stent in, and I’ve gradually gotten my strength back. They found no heart damage. No liver damage. No kidney damage.”

Judy Russell counts her blessings, too, and among those blessings are the Cumberland County EMS paramedics and the Emergency Department staff.

“They had this great team,” she says. “In the ambulance, his heart started and stopped. He wasn’t even stable at the hospital. Dr. Bhandari said, ‘We didn’t think he was going to make it.’ But they did a great job at the hospital. They were wonderful.”

Rusty Russell is back to his career of selling real estate, singing in the church choir and spreading the gospel with his Face-To-Faith ministry.

“Time was everything, and they squeezed every moment to save me,” Rusty Russell says. “God prompted Judy to check on me that day. I’m a success story, and I’m doing great. I pray that many more lives will be saved, as mine was.”

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