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For top-notch cardiac care, I ♥ St. Anthony's
Terri Marsh, R.N., Cardiac Catheterization, was sound asleep in her warm bed in the Fenton area when her beeper went off during the wee hours of a cold January morning. “Code stemi,” was the message, referring to a severe type of heart attack. Marsh was one of the members of St. Anthony’s heart care team on call that morning.
“I know when I get that page I have to get to the hospital in 30 minutes,” Marsh noted. She arrived in 15, and met with fellow team member Lisa Slavik, R.N., B.S.N., and their anxious patient
and his family in the Emergency Department.
William “Bill” Griffin, 66, was ashen-faced. He hadn’t been in a hospital as a patient for 40 years. His wife, Ellen, sat beside him, still wearing her print pajama pants. Griffin had awakened about 2 a.m. at his home in Arnold, suffering dull chest pains. Initially he had brushed off the discomfort, thinking he had heartburn. But when he sat down at his computer and broke into a cold
sweat, he knew it was much more serious than that. He stood up, and nearly passed out. On his hands and knees he crawled back to the bedroom to wake his wife, who dialed 911.
“Your heart goes out to the families first,” noted Marsh, 44. “Every family is scared: you can see the panic and fear on their faces.”
Working fast, they consoled the family, telling them they understood Griffin was having a heart attack and that they would move him to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab as quickly as possible. Slavik prepped the patient with electrodes and IV drips while Marsh gathered the necessary background information.
“We try to spend less than five minutes in the ED, because they say time is muscle,” Marsh said.”The more time that’s lost, the more heart muscle they’re losing.”
They rushed Griffin into the cath lab, where they met fellow team members David Morton, M.D., and Steve Parker, Radiology tech RT (R). Over a period of several hours, the team managed to stabilize Griffin’s heart, and Dr. Morton put a stent in one of his arteries. It wasn’t easy: Griffin’s heart stopped twice and he was defibrillated, or shocked, 20 to 30 times to resurrect a flagging heartbeat and correct abnormal cardiac rhythms. Soon after, Griffin underwent cardiac bypass surgery. He returned home a few days later, and is a little tired but otherwise is doing well, his wife said.
“Everything fell into place, from the arrival of the paramedics to the cardiac team waiting for us,” Ellen Griffin recalled. “He shouldn’t have been here, according to what they told me. After talking to Dr. Morton, I could tell it was an experience for him, too. No mere words can ever express the depth of gratitude we both have for Dr. Morton, Terri, Lisa and Steve. There are many other nurses from the CVICU that we very much want to thank also for the excellent care they gave Bill during his stay at St. Anthony’s.”
Bill Griffin’s story is one of many patient successes to come out of St. Anthony’s Heart Specialty Center, which is working to become one of the country’s top-performing heart care programs. It was created in 2011 through a unique partnership between the medical center and The Heart Specialty Associates, a practice that now includes 13 of the area’s top cardiologists. The Heart Specialty Center provides a seamless continuum of care for cardiac patients: inpatient and outpatient, medical and surgical, prevention through rehabilitation.
“Our team members in the Heart Specialty Center are extremely dedicated and absolutely top-notch, as Mr. Griffin’s care has shown,” said Dr. Morton, who also serves as chief medical officer of St. Anthony’s. “It requires that whole team, going from EMS to the Emergency Department to the cath lab, to make it work. All of those pieces have to be working together and in sync.”
At any one time, three members of the 19-staff-member Heart Care Team are available on call, said Ellen Smith, director of Cardiovascular Interventional Medicine.
“We also have one team member as a backup to call others in the event that there are two heart attacks at the same time, which happens more often than you’d think,” Smith said. “In that case, we call everyone and ask them to come in. I have never had a time that the staff won’t come in to save a life.”
Caregivers cannot dwell on the gravity of the situation – and the possible consequences involved — until their work is done, Marsh said.
“You kind of go into an auto mode – you know you have to prioritize and get things done, because there’s so much at stake,” Marsh said. “You have to remain calm: panic creates chaos. It just works like an engine. We have the best nurses down here – it’s a hard job.”
And for Marsh, the mission is personal. Nine years ago, her father died of a massive heart attack on the driveway outside his home. Her mom, Barbara Marsh, spent 16 years in Cardiac Cath and is now retired.
“For me, my job has a whole different meaning,” she said. “If I can save somebody’s parent, save them from knowing that hardship, that’s why I do this.”
The next morning was probably the best day of Marsh’s 25-year career at St. Anthony’s. The heart team had finished its work, and Marsh was working in the electrophysiology lab when a call came in: Dr. Morton wanted to see the three team members. He motioned them into the waiting area where the Griffin family was sitting, and introduced them to the family as the caregivers who saved Griffin’s life.
“That was the best thing I have ever seen a doctor do,” Ellen Griffin recalled. “He gave his team the credit.”
The family, in turn, thanked the team.
“It was something I’ll never forget, that day, seeing the family’s faces and realizing how appreciative they were,” Marsh said. “It touched my heart that what we do matters.”
It certainly does, Griffin recalled days later.
“How can you ever repay someone who saves your life?” he asked.
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