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Retired Dr. Brian Livermore on Wednesday discussed the importance of acting quickly to seek help in response to a suspected heart attack. Livermore should know: On Aug. 9, 2013, he suffered an ST-elevated myocardial infarction, or STEMI, heart attack, in which blood flow is completely blocked to a portion of the heart. Unless the blockage is quickly eliminated, the patient is at serious risk of death or disability, thus its nickname “the widow maker.”

Helping with the heart: Sanford Bemidji receives grant to help with cardiac care

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BEMIDJI -- When Dr. Brian Livermore saw the EKG, he knew he was dying.

"I recognized right away what was going on," Livermore recalled Wednesday afternoon. "The entire front of my heart had huge elevations ... I realized, I actually realized, I was dying."

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His training and experience laid out the facts: If they put him on a helicopter, he was as good as dead. He wouldn't make it.

Livermore was experiencing an ST-elevated myocardial infarction, or STEMI, heart attack, in which blood flow is completely blocked to a portion of the heart. Unless the blockage is quickly eliminated, the patient is at serious risk of death or disability, thus its nickname "the widow maker."

Fortunately, Livermore's attack, occurring Aug. 9 came at the right time. Sanford Bemidji Medical Center had just that year introduced 24/7 cardiac care, offering emergent services for cardiac patients.

Livermore, today healthy enough he was able to run 3.5 miles Wednesday morning, spoke at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center as the hospital celebrated receiving a $108,155 grant through "Mission: Lifeline", an American Heart Association initiative aimed at improving care for heart attack patients in rural Minnesota.

That grant aims to streamline the process for diagnoses and intervention, making it possible for patients to more quickly reach cardiac physicians and surgeons in emergent heart attack situations like STEMI attacks.

Mindy Cook, director of "Mission: Lifeline Minnesota" with the American Heart Association, reported that 250,000 Americans experience STEMI attacks each year.

In 2011, 2,284 Minnesotans had a STEMI attack, she said, and cardiovascular disease remains the No. 2 cause of death in Minnesota.

"We're working to continue to drop that down the list," she said.

About two-thirds of STEMI patients fail to receive the best available treatments to restore blood flow. "Mission: Lifeline" seeks to close that gap.

In June, the American Heart Association announced $6.5 million in grants to be implemented from 2013-2016, thanks in large part to another $4.6 million grant.

Sanford Bemidji is one of the grant recipients, receiving $25,000 for EKG-receiving software and equipment; $8,155 for purchasing Action Registry annual licensure and renewal fees; and $75,000 for the partial funding of a position to enter data into the Action Registry, a risk-adjusted, outcomes-based, quality improvement program that focuses on high-risk STEMI patients.

Now, an alert will sound in the ER when there is an EKG from EMS staff that needs immediate attention to determine the needed response. Hospital staff can then direct the EMS staff on the next steps.

Curtis Crist, supervisor of Sanford Bemidji Heart & Vascular Center, used the Fosston area as an example on how the grant will help save lives. Fosston does not have a helipad at its hospital. If someone in that area was to experience a heart attack, they previously would have gone to the hospital, been diagnosed, and then transported to the airport to meet a helicopter.

With the new system, EMS staff can identify the attack as a STEMI, alert Sanford Bemidji Medical Center so it can get its emergency teams ready, and instead of taking the patient to the local hospital and then to the airport, the ambulance could take the patient directly to the airport or directly to Bemidji, whichever is deemed quicker.

That saves precious time and could mean the difference between life and death.

"Time is of the essence," Livermore said.

A big focus of Wednesday's presentation was on the need to quickly assess the situation and make first contact with the system by calling 911 so the ambulance service can be in touch with the hospital to make physicians aware of a person's symptoms.

"The sooner you decide you need to act and call 911, the sooner that the ambulance service can get there, the sooner that they can get diagnosed, the sooner that they can activate that team (at a hospital)," Crist said.

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