Rapid Cardiac Care

Jonathan and Meredith Parker of Cleveland, Tennessee, were relishing their new roles as parents shortly after the birth of their first child, Olivia, on June 24, 2008. “We were ecstatic,” says Jonathan, recalling the week after Olivia’s birth. “Everything was going just fine.”

Rapid Cardiac Care at Erlanger Helps New Mom, 29, Survive Massive Heart Attack

By Jennifer Homa

But minutes before the stroke of midnight on July 2, the perfect family scene unexpectedly changed. As Olivia began to cry, Jonathan walked over to check on her. Meredith followed until her heart suddenly began to race. Within seconds, the new mother collapsed.

“I immediately knew something was desperately wrong,” says Jonathan. “I called 911 and started talking to the dispatcher on the speakerphone. Meredith was still gasping for air and turning blue.”

Without any hesitation, Jonathan began CPR. His recent CPR training with the police academy allowed him to keep Meredith’s blood and oxygen pumping through her body. He continued to perform chest compressions until the paramedics arrived and stabilized her for transport. At the nearest hospital, doctors decided Meredith needed immediate cardiac care and she was airlifted by LIFE FORCE to the Erlanger Baroness Campus.

“When Meredith arrived at Erlanger, we took her directly to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab,” explains Dr. James Hoback, a board-certified cardiologist with the Chattanooga Heart Institute.

The diagnosis was both swift and grim. Meredith had suffered a massive heart attack caused by a tear in a main artery. “It is a rare event when a tear in the artery occurs during pregnancy,” explains Dr. Hoback. “In Meredith’s case, a blood clot had formed on top of the tear, which blocked the flow of the blood.”

In the Cardiac Cath Lab, Dr. Hoback performed an arteriogram, repaired the tear, and inserted a stent to open up the blocked artery. While Meredith recovered, the cardiac staff also used a cooling blanket to induce hypothermia and reduce her body temperature to 92 degrees. Studies show that the use of cooling blankets to induce hypothermia in cardiac patients slows brain activity and reduces the risk of brain damage.

“When a patient goes into cardiac arrest, the blood flow is cut off to the brain,” says Dr. Hoback. “For every minute that the brain does not receive oxygen, the chances of brain damage increase. And even after a pulse is restored, the pumped blood may cause swelling to the brain, which can also lead to brain damage.”

By Friday afternoon, Meredith began to display some promising signs of recovery. When Jonathan called out her name, he saw her eyes flicker. She also followed his instructions to squeeze his hand.

“The next time I walked into Meredith’s hospital room, she smiled and said, ‘Hey, babe,’ ” says Jonathan.

“The ventilator and feeding tube were gone, and she was sitting up in bed, drinking a fruit smoothie.”

“When she woke up, her brain function was perfectly normal,” adds Dr. Hoback. “We don’t know if her brain would have recovered without the cooling process, which has become standard for heart attack patients in the last few years. She’s very lucky.”

Luck was not the only factor in Meredith’s recovery, however. The swift treatment she received at Erlanger also played a role in her successful outcome. “Erlanger has established protocols and achieved higher standards for treating cardiovascular patients,” says Dr. Hoback.

Meredith, who was 29 years old at the time of her heart attack, had other favorable factors on her side. Her age and being a nonsmoker may have played important roles in increasing her chances of survival and helping her make a quick recovery.

“It’s a huge miracle,” says Meredith. “I am blessed and thankful to the Lord to be here and see my baby grow. The paramedics, doctors, and nurses were all strategically placed and all did a great job. We were floored by the quality of care. The staff went above and beyond what they had to do.”

A tear in an artery during pregnancy and a massive heart attack within one week of giving birth rarely happen to a young woman at age 29. But as soon as Meredith displayed symptoms of a heart attack, she immediately received medical care – one of the critical factors that helped save her life. “What people should take away from this example is that they need to get medical attention as soon as possible when symptoms of a heart attack are present,” concludes Dr. Hoback. “The clock is ticking.”

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