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Healing hearts

Brenda Grant, 56, has generally led a healthy life, and blood work taken as recently as March showed no problems.

“I keep up with all my checkups,” she said. “My cholesterol was going a little high, but I never had any problems with my heart.”

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However, one night in April, Grant, who lives in the Red Lion Manor Apartments on Northeast Avenue, started to feel ill. Some frozen yogurt did not help.

“I felt burning in my chest,” she recalled. “I laid down, but I wasn’t comfortable. I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up all night. It was a very scary night for me.”

The next morning, she saw her 9-year-old grandson, Tahmir, off to William Loesche School, but she was so weak that she soon made a telephone call to her daughter.

“I think I’m having a heart attack,” she said.

Grant fixed her hair and dialed 911.

“I didn’t want to go looking a mess,” she said.

While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, Grant walked to the entrance to the apartment complex to greet the medics, who immediately saw signs of a heart attack. She didn’t even get a chance to close her door.

“Ma’am, you’re not going anywhere. You’re getting in this ambulance,” a medic told her.

On the way to Nazareth Hospital, she was given nitroglycerin. She could hear and see but recalls being in a dream-like state. Reality set in when she arrived at the hospital and saw concerned looks on the faces of the medical team.

Dr. Dan Vile, a cardiologist, was making his rounds at the hospital when the patient arrived. He ordered an immediate electrocardiogram.

“Not all chest pain is a heart attack,” he explained.

In Grant’s case, though, it was an acute myocardial infarction. Immediate action was necessary to save the heart muscle and keep oxygen flowing to the brain.

Nazareth Hospital does not offer heart surgery and typically used to send patients in Grant’s condition on a helicopter to another hospital, such as Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

However, since March, Nazareth has been offering coronary angioplasty in its state-of-the-art catheterization lab for patients with clogged arteries.

Community hospitals without cardiac surgery are permitted to provide elective and emergency coronary angioplasty, once they meet the rigorous standards for participation in the Atlantic Cardiovascular Patient Outcomes Research Team study, sponsored by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

In Nazareth’s case, it needed approval from the state Department of Health. Seven other Pennsylvania hospitals are enrolled in the study.

Nazareth staff received special training, attended lengthy meetings and engaged in mock heart attack drills.

“You just can’t open a cath lab and perform interventions without stringent rules and regulations,” Vile said.

For Grant, the coronary angioplasty was an emergency situation. She couldn’t give verbal consent, so her daughter, Nickia Walker, signed the necessary forms.

Vile went through the patient’s right groin to unclog a blocked artery.

“We were on the artery before you could blink,” the doctor said. “Everything opened liked greased lightning.”

Vile said the coronary angioplasty option is invaluable, especially for emergency patients who previously would be placed on a helicopter for treatment.

“We save all that time,” he said.

Vile said the success of Grant’s procedure — blood was fully flowing to the areas of the heart within 90 minutes — was a team effort.

“I’m just a glorified plumber who opens drains,” he said. “To get in quick to open an artery is a testament to the staff and a whole slew of people.”

Nazareth has performed about a dozen coronary angioplasty procedures, and all have had positive outcomes.

Grant’s case was the most severe, and Vile credited her with seeking out medical care. He urges others in similar situations to do the same.

“If you get chest pain, don’t ignore it,” he said.

Grant spent a week in the hospital, and was monitored most closely for 72 hours after the procedure to make sure the heart was beating and recuperating properly.

The patient is thankful for Nazareth’s coronary angioplasty option. She learned the day after the procedure that she had been close to death.

The experience remains an emotional one.

“God was with me,” she said. “I thank God that I’m alive. I’m still here. He led me to a hospital where nobody gave up on me.”

After being released from the hospital, she visited the crew of Medic 6 to thank them for recognizing the severity of her condition.

As part of her recovery, she has seen her primary physician, undergone a stress test, been on a heart monitor, received nurse visits at home and taken part in physical therapy. She’s lost some weight, with Vile joking that she has no room for food because of all the medicine she takes.

Grant is on medical leave from her demanding job as a nurse’s assistant at Paul’s Run retirement community, but she will try to maintain a regular exercise regimen.

The next challenge was to address her eating habits.

“I love cheese and fried chicken, all the wrong things,” she said. “But that’s all stopped.”

Whether it’s because of the medical scare or a desire to see her six grandchildren grow up or the fact that her two daughters are nurses and her son is very health-conscious, she is now on a strict diet.

Today, her meals include such products as Mrs. Dash and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. On trips to Old Country Buffet, she chooses salad and vegetables. She proclaims that she “loves” asparagus.

“I eat right. After you start eating different, it gets easy,” she said. “I don’t know what plans God has for me, but I want to do what’s right to keep me here.” ••

For more information about Nazareth Hospital’s coronary angioplasty procedure or to enroll in the study, call toll-free 1–866-NAZARETH or visit www.mercyhealth.org/nazareth

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