Published: 03 September 2015
When a person suffers a heart attack it is vital that their arteries be unblocked as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Unfortunately, a number of people suffer serious complications or die as a result of heart attacks. These complications can be prevented if the blocked artery is opened soon after the onset of chest pain or discomfort. A group of ER24 paramedics are currently researching ways of getting patients the medical attention needed before it is too late. Senior Flight Paramedic, Willem Stassen, who initiated the idea to conduct the research; said, “I thought of the idea because I was frustrated by the waiting times of patients needing to undergo reperfusion (restoration of blood flow to an area that is blocked). When one or more of the coronary arteries become blocked, there is a lack of blood flow and oxygen going to the heart that causes those parts of the heart to die. The longer these parts of the heart muscle are without oxygen, the more of the muscle ends up dying.” “The best way to reperfuse these vessels is to go to a cardiac catheterisation theatre and have a stent placed in the vessel itself. The American Heart Association suggests that a patient must have their vessel/s reperfused as soon as possible and preferably in under 90 minutes. In South Africa the delay is much greater. This is concerning as the longer a patient waits, the greater the chances of death,” he said. Stassen, who is currently busy with a dual PhD degree at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, said reasons for a delay in reperfusion times include patients not taking chest pain or discomfort seriously and patients being taken to hospitals that do not have the theatre facilities required. Patients end up at inappropriate facilities for example when they are transported privately by friends or family. This is due to them not knowing which facilities have cardiac catheterisation theatres. “It is not a treatment problem as we are getting that right, for the most part. It is a network and referral problem. Patients are not going or being taken to the correct facilities in time,” said Stassen. Stassen’s research, and that of two Masters students, consists of six studies.
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