Scott Friedman, NBC 5 Investigates
A North Texas hospital finds that half of its patients drive to the hospital in the event of a heart attack. Baylor Garland nurse Amy Albus tells NBC 5's Scott Friedman that most people don't recognize the symptoms of a heart attack or they are in denial or embarrassed. Heart attack survivor Kathy Ellis says if she had to do it again she'd go to the hospital by ambulance. This story was published August 31, 2011 - 12:43 a.m.
According to a recent study by nurses at Baylor Medical Center in Garland, half of all heart attack patients do not call an ambulance.
Instead, the patients hopped in someone else's car or even drove themselves to the emergency room while they were having a heart attack -- risking their own lives and sometimes the lives of others.
Patients who drive risk passing out behind the wheel and causing a crash. Patients could also end up on the side of the road with a family member who is suddenly forced to perform CPR or help them get emergency attention.
Nurses at Baylor Garland don't waste time when a call comes in saying a heart-attack patient is on the way. As they say, "Time is muscle."
Minutes lost can mean more damage to the heart muscle. Once it's gone, that muscle doesn't come back.
Why don't more patients call an ambulance?
Baylor Garland nurse Amy Albus said many patients simply don't recognize the symptoms of a heart attack. Others are in denial or embarrassed.
"They don't want ambulances and fire trucks to arrive in their neighborhood, lights flashing, nosy neighbors wondering what's going on," she said.
Albus and other Baylor Garland nurses are running a "survive, don't drive" campaign to educate people about the warning signs of a heart attack and the importance of getting immediate attention.
When Kathy Ellis had a heart attack, she rode to the ER with her husband in his car after a day of feeling like something just wasn't right.
"I was a walking time bomb," she said.
Doctors were able to open Ellis' blocked artery. But she said if she had to do it all over again, she would call 911.
"Get to the hospital, call an ambulance as quick as you can," Ellis said.
More people might be convinced to do the same if they saw how technology is speeding heart-attack treatment.
Paramedics in Garland carry monitoring equipment that allows them to send a patent's EKG information to the hospital from the scene. Doctors at Baylor can read the EKG and diagnose a heart attack from their computer or even on their iPhone.
The hospital's cath lab can then be ready and waiting when the patient arrives, shortening the amount of time it takes to open a blockage.
Some heart attack victims don't have the classic warning signs, such as pain in the center of the chest or pain in one arm or the back. Many experience shortness of breath or have flu-like symptoms or feel light-headed or nauseous.