When Jean Dean’s husband Charles, age 62, stood up suddenly at their Tyngsboro home on the night of October 2, 2013 she asked him if he was OK. “No,” he replied, then dropped to the kitchen floor. His heart had stopped.
“My husband has a long history of heart problems,” Jean says, noting that he has undergone bypass surgery, multiple balloon angioplasties to expand narrowed arteries, and placement of six stents to keep those arteries propped open.
“But this happened so fast…in a short time, he was purple,” she relates. “He didn’t have any [blood] pressure at all.”
Jean, a surgical technician at Lowell General Hospital for 30 years, immediately started performing CPR while her son called 9-1-1.
“My son stayed on the phone with the dispatcher while I did compressions,” she recalls. “Doing CPR is part of the training at work, but when it’s your own husband, it’s different.”
Within minutes, a Lowell General Paramedics team arrived, as did the local ambulance service.
The paramedics resuscitated Charles using a cardiac defibrillator and notified Lowell General Hospital to activate the cardiac catheterization lab, where an interventional cardiologist and support staff would be ready to perform an Emergency Angioplasty.
“They did an angioplasty when he came in and removed a clot,” Jean says. “He was in the intensive care unit for two days, then went to the cardiac floor. They did another balloon angioplasty the third day in the same spot and in an artery that was next to it, to enlarge them both. Today, he’s doing fine; you’d never know anything was wrong,” she adds.
Jean credits the paramedics with saving her husband’s life.
“We take for granted that they’re always there, she says. “But we are very lucky that we have such well-trained professionals who can respond as fast as they do.”
In fact, there are 31 of these professionals who serve the Greater Lowell community, with two teams of two paramedics on duty 24/7, and a third team available eight hours a day during peak transport times (8:00am-4:00pm during the week, and 1:00-9:00pm on weekends). They are located at Lowell General Hospital's Main Campus on Varnum Avenue, the Saints Campus at One Hospital Drive, the Chelmsford Campus at 20 Research Place in North Chelmsford and at Circle Health Westford. The paramedics log more than 10,000 calls a year.
“Probably the most frequent type of call we receive is for chest pain and/or shortness of breath,” says Timothy Regan, BS/BA, REMTP, JD. As Chief of Emergency Medical Services, he oversees Lowell General Hospital’s advanced life support (ALS) and paramedic services.
Regan explains that local communities’ ambulance services, staffed by emergency medical technicians (EMTs) normally respond to calls with less-acute injuries such as minor motor vehicle accidents or sprained ankles. But when there is a more complex injury or illness – like a heart attack – the paramedics are dispatched to the scene. They have undergone 2,200 hours of classroom and clinical training that qualifies them to perform ALS which includes administering IV fluids, injections, medications and performing advanced respiratory procedures.
Paramedics also administer electrocardiograms to determine if someone is having a heart attack, and can request activation of Lowell General Hospital’s catheterization lab from the field – a critical, time-saving step when minutes matter.
“We use specially outfitted SUVs to carry our equipment to the scene,” Regan says. “The local ambulance service transports the patient to the hospital. It’s a multi-tiered response system and a fantastic model of care.
“Emergency medical care really begins with that call to 9-1-1,” Regan continues. “The patient and family can already be receiving instruction and start CPR before we arrive. It’s a huge benefit to survival."