Tom's Story: The Road Taken

If you’re in your early 50s and in good shape, as well as a non-smoker and physically active, you don’t expect a heart attack to land in your path.

Tom Dermody certainly didn’t at 52. He was doing his regular 30-mile bike ride, near Monroe. But after 20 miles, he pulled over.

“The area between my throat and chest felt odd, in a weird place I had never felt before,” Tom recalls. “No pain in my arm or chest, so I really didn’t think it was a heart problem.”

When Tom couldn’t walk off the feeling, he called his wife, who arrived on the scene with their daughter. Tom’s wife talked him into calling 911. “I was embarrassed and didn’t want to call,” Tom candidly admits. “But calling the squad and going to Atrium saved my life.”

While in the ambulance, Tom’s electrocardiogram (EKG) “flat-lined,” meaning there was no cardiac activity. The Emergency Medical Service (EMS) team was ready with defibrillation equipment. “The EMS guys used the paddles on me,” Tom said.

The EMS professionals were in contact with the Emergency Trauma Center (ETC) at Atrium Medical Center, alerting ETC staff to Tom’s condition.

Saving Precious Minutes

“The EMS contacts us with EKG tracings and reports that allow us to make determinations about what’s needed for the patient being transported, so we can be prepared to receive that patient and save precious minutes,” said Virinder Sidhu, RN, at Atrium’s ETC. “Often the entire team is standing outside the room, prepared, waiting for the patient, gloves on.”

Tom didn’t realize it, but because he was headed to Atrium, he was going to receive life-saving help from a hospital that soon after became the only accredited Chest Pain Center in Butler and Warren counties.

This designation was awarded to Atrium by the Society of Chest Pain Centers, an international organization, after a rigorous evaluation of Atrium’s ability to quickly assess, diagnose and treat patients who may be experiencing a heart attack. This means treating patients more quickly during the critical window of time when heart muscle can be preserved.

When Tom arrived at Atrium, his heart stopped for the second time, but a quick response by the ETC team saved him again. “The staff was 100 percent professional and so caring,” he said. “They worked as a team and I am so grateful for what they did.”

Tom needed a cardiac catheterization, and the team was ready. The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend a “door to balloon time” (the time from a patient’s arrival at the hospital to the time the blocked blood vessel is opened) of 90 minutes. Atrium is proud not only to meet, but to consistently better this standard.

“Most EMS squads transmit EKGs directly to Atrium’s ETC. Squads also have the authority to instantly alert the cardiac catheterization lab team and initiate the plan of care,” said Candace Kitchen, cardiac catheterization manager. “Activating the team from the field can save as much as 10 to 15 minutes of door-to-balloon time.”

Tom’s blocked heart vessels were opened with stents during his angioplasty procedure. Stents are small wire mesh tubes placed in diseased coronary arteries to hold them open and restore blood flow. The stents stay in the artery permanently.

Intensive Caring

To ensure the best possible recovery and to monitor his condition, Tom was admitted to Atrium’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU).

“Many of our nurses have earned certifications for intensive critical care,” said Rose Barker, CCRN, in Atrium’s CICU. “We not only provide specialized care while the patients are here, but also education about what they’ve experienced, lifestyle modifications, and how to recognize or prevent future cardiac events.”

“My days in the CICU were also about realizing that a heart attack had happened to me,” Tom said. “Every person I encountered had the same goal I did: my healthy recovery.”

911 — The Right Choice

Heart attacks are the leading cause of death in the United States, with 600,000 people dying annually of heart disease. More than five million Americans visit hospitals each year with chest pain.

“It can happen to anyone,” Tom reflects. “When I think of how I almost let my ego get in the way and not had an ambulance called, it scares me. That decision and what the EMS people and the Atrium staff did saved my life.”

Every Second Counts

If you’re experiencing chest pain and possibly having a heart attack, every second counts. The sooner a heart attack is treated, the less damage to your heart and the better the outcome. Never attempt to drive yourself to the hospital in a cardiac emergency. Call 911 immediately.

Contact Us

Every moment of your life depends on a strong, healthy heart. The Premier Health cardiology and vascular services team is here to help you, each beat of the way, with prevention, diagnostic, treatment, and rehabilitation services in our hospitals, outpatient centers, and medical offices across Southwest Ohio.