Patient Perspectives on Heart Attack Treatment

Rene Colwell got swift treatment and her heart suffered little damage.
Treatment for heart attack is standardized and all medical professionals who work in emergency rooms know the procedure. Yet disparities can arise depending on factors that range from the race of the patient to the day of the week he or she is hospitalized.

Rene Colwell, 52, of New York City, who had her heart attack this year, says she spent a day feeling "not quite well," but it didn't occur to her that it could be her heart until she felt sharp pain in both of her elbows. "It's odd, I know, but I figured arm pain—even if it's just elbows—meant there might be something wrong with my heart."

She called 911, was whisked to the emergency room, got triaged to the front of the line and was given care that left her with little damage to her heart. "The response was so efficient it was almost not dramatic," she says. "I guess if you have to have a health emergency, a heart attack isn't the worst one to have."

Deb Kautz, 46, of Zumbro Falls, Minn., describes emergency treatment for a heart attack as surprisingly calming and even relieving. As the doctors snaked a catheter through her veins and opened the clogged artery, she felt alert, then energized. "My husband said, 'Of course you feel different, your heart's finally getting the blood it needs.'"

Medications can instantly reduce pain. Balloon angioplasties open arteries blocked with plaque, restoring the flow of lifesaving blood and oxygen to the heart. Clot-busting drugs can also help. The right treatment gives many heart attack patients their first opportunity to think that they just might survive.

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Last Updated: April 27, 2008

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