For Jason Hilberg, it was just another work day. A plumber, he was working alone when suddenly his chest began to tighten, and within moments his life was in jeopardy.
As his arm started to hurt and the pressure in his chest mounted, he walked outside before dropping to his knees. He said because he wasn’t in extreme pain, he almost didn’t call 911 but then changed his mind.
A siren became louder in the distance and a fireman arrived, then the EMTs in an ambulance and after that two paramedics. As he was loaded onto a gurney and into the back of the ambulance, he was told he was having a heart attack.
“That’s the last thing I remember.”
A Boxboro resident, Jason was told that his life may have been saved by the fact he was in Lowell that day: the first firefighter on scene arrived in minutes, paramedics Deb Whitney and Doug Roberge were close behind and cardiologist Dr. Omar Ali was waiting at the emergency department door at Lowell General Hospital.
To first responders, this is called the “Chain of Survival,” and Lowell’s chain is stronger and tighter than most. Lowell General Hospital provides a paramedic service that is able to administer Advanced Life Saving interventions in the field and on the way to the Emergency Department, where the cardiology team is able to get patients into a life-saving procedure an average of 30 minutes faster than the national standard.
According to Whitney, the paramedic on scene, when Jason’s heart first stopped in the ambulance, the defibrillator pads were already on him and ready to be activated. In the emergency room, he needed to be revived again, requiring several shocks before his heartbeat re-started.
“You don’t know you’re out until you’re coming back in,” he said. “I remember a lot of people talking, doors opening up. I just remember nurses telling me to try to relax.”
He’d pass out again, only to be awakened by more shocks to his chest.
“At that point, I felt like I wasn’t going to wake up one of these times,” he says. “The only comfort I really had was hearing different people say – ‘We got you, take it easy.’ “
In Jason’s case, it took just 10 minutes to get him from the ambulance and into the Cardiac Catheterization Lab. He did wake up again, and this time the room was quiet, the nightmare was over, and he suddenly felt great. Dr. Omar Ali had successfully opened the artery and put in a stent. He had a second chance.
Jason says at every point of his care at Lowell General, including a procedure to insert stents into his arteries several weeks later, he was treated with kindness and respect.
He has a new appreciation for life, he says, and has committed himself to living a healthier lifestyle. After years of smoking, he never wants another cigarette.
“I’m lucky I was in Lowell that day,” Jason says.