Here is Dr. Casey’s list of things you should do when you think you might be having a heart attack.

Step 1: Know the symptoms.
It’s not just about chest pain. In fact, many people, especially women, never have chest pain during a heart attack.

Step 2: Call 911.
If doing nothing is the greatest mistake people make during a heart attack, the next biggest offense is that people drive themselves to the hospital. For some reason, this seems to be an even bigger problem in Northeast Wisconsin where research has shown a willingness among almost half the population to drive themselves 30 minutes or more to get to the emergency room. Don’t do it. EMS responders are trained to get you to the right place in the least amount of time, and to begin the treatment process while you are en route.

Step 3: Take an aspirin.
The blood thinning properties of aspirin can prove life-saving during a heart attack.

Step 4: Don’t self-diagnose.
Sure it might be indigestion but that should not be your call. Call 911 and get to an emergency room.

Step 5: Don’t take someone else’s medicines.

Step 6: Bring current medications.
Have a list of current medications prepared ahead of time and bring it with you if possible. Better yet, bring the bottles. But don’t bring in individual pills that aren’t labeled. Many medicines look alike and this won’t help your emergency team.

Step 7: Bring a recent EKG.
If you have an EKG strip from a recent visit, bring it. Having a baseline EKG to compare your current test to can save valuable time.

Step 8: Know your hospital preference.
Remember, research shows that getting to a hospital that offers The Big 3: Emergency care, Angioplasty, and Heart surgery, improves your chances of survival up to 40 percent.

Step 9: Make your preference known, but rely on EMS.
Inform EMS of where you would like them to take you, but ultimately, let them decide. They know the situation; they understand the options. In most cases, they will honor your wishes, but they will also advise you if your wishes carry unnecessary risk.

Thanks to the outstanding work of groups like the American Heart Association, more people are aware of heart disease as a killer than ever before. Now comes the need to make more people understand the importance of acting quickly when warning signs occur.

Why? In a heart emergency, time is heart muscle. The longer a heart attack is allowed to go on without intervention, the more heart muscle damage will occur. And muscle damage is irreversible.


“Planning saves lives during a heart attack,” says Dr. Paul Casey, Director of Emergency Services at Bellin Health. “Make a commitment right now that you will seek help immediately if you even think you’re having heart attack symptoms. That decision could save your life.”

Why do people tend to wait too long before seeking help for a heart attack? Denial is one reason; so is fear of embarrassment.

“Some people are concerned they are going to waste our time,” says Bonnie Parrott, R.N., emergency services team leader at Bellin. “People think we’re going to be mad if it turns out they’re not really having a heart attack. Remember, we want you to come in.”

“If a patient has blood flow restored within the first hour of the heart attack, then the chances are pretty good that there will be little or no damage to the heart muscle,” says Dr. Casey. “After that deterioration sets in fast. So we tell everyone, know the warning signs, and know what you’ll do when one occurs. Don’t be hardheaded. Don’t be concerned about embarrassment. And don’t delay.”

It’s called door to balloon time. It’s a critical period that measures how long it takes a hospital to move a heart attack patient from its ER to its cath lab to open blocked arteries. Because time is everything during a heart attack, The American College of Cardiology says hospitals should accomplish this in less than ninety minutes. Unfortunately the average is 149 minutes. And research shows that anything over 120 increases your chance of dying by 40 percent. But one hospital is consistently achieving door to balloon times in less than 60 minutes. Saving time. Saving lives. They can do this because they have an experienced heart emergency team who works with an experienced angioplasty team who works with one of the best heart surgery teams anywhere. Who all work with the EMS team when YOU call 911 and ask to go to Bellin.