Lisa Payne

Lisa Payne and her ER nurseIt began as a normal day at the Payne household; Lisa Payne was making her children’s lunches—her husband had left for work. She recalls, “I was stricken all of a sudden. I had an initial wave of tightness in my chest, followed by numbness in my left arm that moved to my jaw. I thought to myself, ‘I cannot believe this. I think I’m having a heart attack.’”

Little Risk

Lisa, age 43, is slim, active—she bicycles, rollerblades, and does aerobics—and has normal cholesterol and blood pressure. Her only slight risk factor was a family history of high cholesterol.

Luckily, she is also a Girl Scout leader for her 8-year-old daughter’s troop and had just taken a CPR/first aid

class a couple of weeks earlier in order to share her knowledge with the troop. “I recognized the classic heart attack symptoms, and I took an aspirin right away, just as I’d learned in class,” she says.

She also called a neighbor to help get her two children to school and then dialed 911. When the ambulance arrived at her home in Fork, Md., all her symptoms were gone, but she still chose to go to the hospital. And here’s when another twist occurred: Since the two closest hospital emergency rooms were on divert status, Lisa requested to go to University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center.

Temporarily Dead

“That everything worked out the way it did was a miracle,” she explains. She arrived at UM St. Joseph Medical Center’s The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Emergency Department, and while giving the registrar her Social Security number, went into cardiac arrest. Immediately, the ER staff mobilized.

“It appeared that she was having a seizure,” describes UM St. Joseph Medical Center emergency physician Kerry Heeman, MD. “We rushed her into a treatment room. It turned out she was in ventricular fibrillation, which is
an abnormal rhythm of the heart, in which there is no blood pressure, no pulse, no breathing. The heart is quivering but not pumping blood. A person is temporarily dead when they’re in cardiac arrest.

“The treatment is to shock the person with electrodes that are connected to a defibrillator. We used an electric jolt to get her heart back into a regular rhythm. She was still unconscious, so we intubated her and put her on a ventilator, which is a breathing machine.”

Complete Valve Blockage

After performing an EKG, Dr. Heeman diagnosed that Lisa was having an acute heart attack. He ordered a CT scan to make sure that she didn’t have a bleed in her brain before taking her to the cardiac catheterization lab. The CT scan was done with the utmost speed in the Radiology Department, which is linked to the ER.

There was no bleeding, so Lisa was taken to the cardiac catheterization lab, immediately across from the ER. There, Farhan Majeed, MD, an experienced interventional cardiologist, diagnosed that her left anterior descending (LAD) vessel—the largest vessel in the heart—was 100 percent blocked. He restored blood flow by deftly inserting a stent to open the LAD.

However, Lisa remained unconscious, so Jason Marx, MD, chief of UM St. Joseph Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit, instituted an innovative cooling protocol called hypothermia. A cooling blanket was placed on Lisa to lower her body temperature and enable her brain to rest and restore during her unconscious state. UM St. Joseph Medical Center was the first area community hospital to implement hypothermia almost a decade ago.

“We have a really experienced staff that thrives on this kind of lifesaving care. The protocols and processes are all in place,” explains Gail Cunningham, MD, chief medical officer at UM St. Joseph Medical Center, who oversees the hospital’s quality of care and is an emergency physician herself.

Quick Recovery

The next day, Lisa awoke and began a remarkable recovery. Just two weeks later, she attended a nursing conference at UM St. Joseph Medical Center, where she met and thanked the emergency nurse, Barbara Davis-Severe, RN, who had shocked her back to life with the defibrillator.

“I believe it was divine intervention that I was supposed to go to UM St. Joseph Medical Center,” says Lisa.

Her cardiologist Stephen Pollock, MD, comments, “It’s very rare for someone like her to have heart disease. But by taking quick action and calling 911, she saved her life. It’s also a great story on how excellent our ER is and how good our cardiac intervention is.”

“The bottom line is that you should always take chest pain seriously. Some symptoms come and go,” says Dr. Heeman. “It’s your job to come to the ER when you have chest pain. It could be anything from a heart attack to a clot in the lungs to a brain aneurysm. It’s our job to check it out and make sure you get the right treatment.”

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