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From life to death and back again

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The last thing 72-year-old Virgil McGough remembered is going out for a walk on a Friday with his wife Lynne. “My next recollection is waking up at Virtua Marlton six days later,”

McGough says. He had collapsed and gone into cardiac arrest – McGough’s heart had stopped beating.

Fate was on his side. Lynne, a nurse, immediately started CPR. Within minutes 911 was called. McGough was rushed to Virtua Marlton where he was treated with therapeutic hypothermia – an intervention that saved his life.

Therapeutic hypothermia is the most advanced therapy for stopping the brain damage associated with many types of heart attacks. Randy Mintz, MD, Virtua cardiologist and medical director of the cardiac catheterization lab at Virtua Marlton, explains:

“Sometimes, because of the devastating shock of a heart attack, the heart can stop beating. The lack of blood flow causes the brain to immediately swell – a dangerous situation.”

Hypothermia involves cooling the patient’s entire body down to between 90 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit.

This reduces the body’s metabolic needs and substantially lessens damage to the brain and heart. The patient is cooled for 24 hours after which his temperature is slowly returned to normal.

“Everything worked the way we designed it to work,” said Scott Kasper, Virtua’s corporate director of emergency services. “Getting Mr. McGough quickly to a Virtua emergency department capable of using hypothermia treatment surely contributed to saving his life.”

The care you need, when and where you need it.
“The type of heart attack someone suffers determines the type of treatment the individual receives,” explains Dr. Mintz. “Fortunately, Virtua can deliver it all – the highest level of cardiovascular care close to home.”

Whether it’s an evaluation at Virtua Marlton’s accredited chest pain center, the need for an emergency angioplasty in one of Virtua’s state-of-the-science catheterization labs or therapeutic hypothermia, Virtua’s experienced clinical teams are ready to stop life-threatening cardiovascular problems round-the-clock.

What does a heart attack feel like?
“It’s like an elephant sitting on your chest,” says Charles Dennis, MD, Virtua cardiologist.

“Many patients experience extraordinary pressure, squeezing and burning in their chest.

Unfortunately, some people ignore these symptoms and don’t call 911. They worry that they will be embarrassed if it turns out not to be heart attack.”

“I can’t say this strongly enough: Better to be embarrassed and alive than ending up in intensive care or worse. Call 911 and get to the closest hospital that can perform emergency angioplasty,” emphasizes Dr. Dennis.

Virtua Memorial and Marlton Hospitals are staffed so that once a patient arrives, an angioplasty can be completed in 90 minutes, door-to-balloon time, the national standard.

“The sooner a person is treated the better the chance we have to save the most important muscle in the body – the heart,” adds Dr. Mintz.

Exacting protocols for heart attacks
Virtua has exacting protocols in place for what happens when someone arrives in the emergency department with heart attack symptoms.

Rick Ludwin, DO, medical director, Virtua Berlin Hospital emergency medicine says: For a patient with chest pain, time is critical, so these patients are seen immediately. An EKG is performed within 10 minutes of arrival. If it shows a heart attack is in progress, a life-saving protocol is immediately triggered. The patient is rushed to Marlton Hospital where angioplasty team is waiting in the catheterization lab – ready to open the blocked artery and restore a normal heart beat.”

Striking back at stroke, epilepsy and brain disease: Virtua Neuroscience Program

  • Four Joint Commission Accredited Advanced Primary Stroke Centers at Virtua Hospitals: Berlin, Marlton, Mount Holly, Voorhees
  • Neurologist on call 24/7 through teleneurology for diagnosis and treatment of stroke and other neurological emergencies
  • Dedicated stroke units in-hospital
  • In-hospital neurologists at Marlton and Voorhees
  • Epilepsy specialist to monitor/treat inpatient and outpatient disease-related problems