April 27, 2020

Heart Attacks during COVID-19 – Advanced Protocols Keep You Safe

ambulance lights

By Robert A. Poarch
“The message has to be out there. Don’t be afraid. Listen to your symptoms. Call 911,” warned Angela Solesbee, RN, CCCC, Code STEMI Coordinator with Mission Heart Services at Mission Health. Solesbee has been with Mission Health’s Code STEMI team for twenty years, and she said, “In my career here, this is probably the worst that I’ve ever seen it.”

If you are having an emergency, we are ready to care for you. Learn more at missionhealth.org/emergency.

Don’t Stay Home

Code STEMI stands for ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction, which means a heart attack. Solesbee specializes in coordinating the process throughout western North Carolina with all of the emergency departments and EMS to improve the response times when a heart attack is identified. Once this process is activated, there is a specialized cardiac team that responds and is ready to provide the lifesaving care that the patient needs. When someone calls 911 with severe chest pains, it’s the STEMI team that goes into action from the time the ambulance arrives to when you arrive to the emergency department.

“I think the media is pushing ‘shelter in place’ and ‘stay at home’ and ‘don’t come to the hospital.’ A lot of patients are taking that literally,” said Solesbee. “So, when they begin having cardiac symptoms, which can be anything from fatigue, aching in the chest, neck or jaw pain, nausea, sweating or a combination of these, they’re thinking I’ll just stay at home and this will just get better.”

When it comes to heart attacks, time is key to saving lives. By waiting to call 911 until the pain is so severe, the cardiac muscle is dying. “I’m seeing a lot more patients who are dying at home or, by the time they get to us, they are so sick that their care is much more complicated. Our specialized team does an exceptional job in caring for these patients,” said Solesbee.

According to Solesbee, STEMI volume is down by approximately 38 percent at Mission Health. “It’s not because people aren’t having heart attacks, it’s because they’re not coming to the hospital,” she said. “Seeing this dramatic decrease beginning in March is what heightened my awareness that something was happening in the community. The patients were either dying before getting to the hospital or having cardiac arrest because they waited so long to call 911.”

The Hospital Is Safe

Solesbee has great confidence in the Mission Health leadership. The hospital system has implemented all of the strict state-mandated protocols. The emergency services does aggressive healthcare screening of each patient both before by EMS and after they enter the emergency department by providers.

“Heart attack patients often bypass the emergency department and go straight up to the Cath Lab,” said Solesbee. The Cath Lab is where doctors perform heart-related diagnostic tests to determine if there is a specific artery that is blocked and the next course of treatment.

“There’s a different floor for patients who have COVID-19. We have all the PPE [personal protective equipment] that we need to take care of that patient appropriately, and to protect both the staff and the patient from COVID-19,” said Solesbee.
For more than 40 years, Mission Heart has been a regional leader in cardiothoracic surgery and heart care, with higher inpatient survival rates than any other hospital in North Carolina.

“We have some of the best response times as far as identifying the heart attack, getting the blocked vessel open, which restores oxygen rich blood supply to the cardiac muscle that was being deprived,” said Solesbee. “And, we have a stellar team of professionals, cardiologists, ER staff, nurses, specialized techs and EMS. It’s the whole team, that’s what makes us the best in providing the outstanding care that Mission is known for.”

“We’re one of the top 50 heart hospitals in the US. We can help our patients with their heart problems. Their care is our priority,” said Solesbee. “We’ll take care of you, and help both you and your family get through this. But, we can’t do that if they stay at home.”

Know the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack

• Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes — it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
• Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
• Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
• Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
• Women often present with different symptoms such as profound fatigue or shortness of breath, sweating. Some women are likely to experience, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Courtesy American Heart Association


Angela Solesbee, RN, CCCC, is the Code STEMI Coordinator with Mission Heart Services at Mission Health.

Do you know your heart health? Take our online quiz to find out your risk factors and what you can do to improve your heart at missionhealth.org/heartstrong.