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Minute Men

Hank Schriefer

In early May, retired San Jose police officer Hank Schriefer,70, was working in his Lake Wildwood garden when he felt a familiar pain in his chest. He’d had a mild heart attack the year before, so he knew the signs. That time, he’d been taken to a local hospital, stabilized and transferred to Sacramento for angioplasty. This time was different. As his pain worsened, Hank took an aspirin and nitroglycerin, and asked his wife to dial 911. Then, as Hank put it, “Everything went to heck.”

When paramedics from the Penn Valley Fire District arrived, just five minutes later, Hank was barely conscious, with low blood pressure and a heart rate of only 28 instead of the normal 60-100 beats per minute. Hank recalled, “My eyeballs had rolled back in my head. I knew I was on my way out.”

The three-man team, led by Firefighter/Paramedic Eric Suarez, gave him oxygen and began ‘pacing’ his heart with external electrical stimulation. “Eric did a super job. Even though I was out of it, I could see that he really took charge,” said Hank. The ambulance was soon heading down Hwy 20 to the Emergency Department at Rideout Memorial, a certified STEMI-receiving center equipped and staffed to treat extremely serious heart attacks. They would make the winding 35-mile trip in just 30 minutes. Every minute counted.

Just six weeks before, the Penn Valley FD rigs had been equipped with wireless EKG machines, and the paramedics trained by Rideout’s ED Clinical Nurse Educator, all funded by the Rideout Foundation. This was the first time they would be used in the field. While en route, Hank’s precarious cardiac status was being transmitted to the Rideout ED, where a multi-disciplinary team of emergency and cardiac specialists — physicians, nurses and techs — were already mobilized. Every minute counted.

Upon arrival, Hank was surrounded by the STEMI team and taken straight to the cath lab, where interventional cardiologist Dr. Karanbir Grewal inserted a temporary transvenous pacemaker. The blockage in Hank’s right coronary artery was 100%. They aspirated the clot in his artery and put a stent in place. The circulation to the heart was restored in only 17 minutes from arrival to the hospital.
“He was in cardiogenic shock, a condition with a mortality rate greater than 80%,” said Dr. Grewal, who began practicing at Rideout in 1998.

After a night in Rideout’s Cardiac ICU and a second in the cardiac “step down” unit, Hank went home to his wife and his garden. “Everyone at the hospital was great, and they were really good with my wife. I was very impressed. After three years as a Firefighter/Paramedic, Eric Suarez already considers the outcome of this 911 call “the highlight of my career.”

From the time the paramedics reached Hank in Lake Wildwood to the restoration of blood flow to Hank’s heart at Rideout, only 88 minutes had elapsed. Every minute counted.

“The sooner, the better,” stressed Dr. Grewal, who is Board-certified in both clinical and interventional cardiology, is how quickly one should seek help for a heart attack. Heart damage is a function of time. “Everyone must be educated to call 911 immediately and take an aspirin.” Every minute counts.