One minute Mark Thompson was watching a soccer match on television and the next he was lying on his living room floor fighting for his life. The 41-year-old Barrie man and father of two young children had the mother of all heart attacks, known as the ‘widow maker’.
When he arrived at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s Emergency department, he had no vital signs. He was defibrillated seven times. Eleven of his ribs were broken during CPR. After almost two hours, his wife Sabrina was called into the trauma room to say her goodbyes. But RVH’s Emergency team just wouldn’t give up. Then a faint pulse was found and with it, hope.
Thompson’s chance for survival meant a trip down the highway for cardiac angioplasty – a procedure not offered at any hospital in Simcoe Muskoka. It was a risky ride for a man whose life was hanging in the balance. With a police escort clearing the road ahead of him, an ambulance raced Thompson to Newmarket to receive this lifesaving cardiac procedure.
He wasn’t out of the woods yet though. Because the Emergency team had worked on him for so long, Thompson had to be placed in a hypothermic coma following his angioplasty to allow his body to recover. He was in the coma for four days. The heart would heal, but the physicians were worried his brain would not.
“If RVH had an Advanced Cardiac program I wouldn’t have had to go through all that. All I needed was a stent put in. It wasn’t like I needed open heart surgery,” says Thompson, who has since fully recovered. “Don’t get me wrong, if it wasn’t for RVH I wouldn’t be alive. They could have pulled the sheet over my head and called it a day and they would have done nothing wrong. They wouldn’t give up on me and I’m so grateful, but they need the tools to finish the job. They need to be able to do angioplasty here in Barrie and not have to ship a patient to another facility. That doesn’t make sense to me. It shouldn’t happen.”
But that is exactly what is happening. North Simcoe Muskoka is the only region in the province that doesn’t have an Advanced Cardiac Centre which means, every year 3,600 people must travel outside the region for their lifesaving cardiac care. “When it comes to the heart, time is muscle. Heart attack patients need to get to an Advanced Cardiac Centre as quickly as possible – ideally within 90 minutes – so that angioplasty can open up the artery, remove the clot, and get blood flowing again,” says Dr. Brad Dibble, clinical director, Cardiovascular and Renal program, RVH.
The reality is, most heart attack patients outside the City of Barrie can’t get to the nearest cardiac centre within that critical 90 minute window. In fact, last year only 76 patients suffering a severe heart attack were close enough to be transported directly to Newmarket for immediate lifesaving intervention. Instead most of this region’s heart attack patients get the ‘drip-and-ship’ standard of care.
That means patients receive medication at their home hospital to help dissolve the clot causing the heart attack and then they are sent to a specialized cardiac centre for treatment. That scenario is all about to change.
In early May the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care gave the green light to RVH to develop an Advanced Cardiac program, in partnership with Southlake Regional Health Centre, and since then the health centre has aggressively moved forward with plans for a comprehensive heart program. RVH now boasts a team of seven cardiologists which provides 24/7 cardiology coverage to ensure patients from throughout the region have access to specialized care day or night.
Meanwhile, a new regional Urgent Cardiology Clinic provides speedy assessment and testing for patients who come to RVH’s Emergency department or surgical pre-admission clinic and are found to be at high risk for a heart attack. In 2012, RVH opened the region’s only Cardiac Care Unit (CCU), along with a dedicated 32-bed Cardiac Renal Unit.
“These are all important pieces of the puzzle and paves the way for opening the Advanced Cardiac Centre, bringing this lifesaving service closer to home,” says Dr. Brad Dibble, RVH clinical director, Cardiovascular and Renal program. “Opening the Advanced Cardiac Centre will be a game changer for heart attack patients throughout Simcoe County and Muskoka.”
For Mark Thompson, opening an Advanced Cardiac Centre at RVH can’t happen soon enough “Everyone deserves the right to get the care they need in the region where they live. We need to bring this care here. Forget about you having the heart attack yourself, what if it happens to someone you love and they can’t get the care they need. Think about that!”