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Heart Heroes: Rick Martin’s Story

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On July 8, 2016, Rick Martin felt his heart rate slow and he became weak. He had had a heart attack, and not just any heart attack, a complete coronary blockage. Lucky for him, his sister was there to take him to Alamance Regional Medical Center, dialing 911 on her way. Rick doesn’t remember much about his time at ARMC, but emergency staff were waiting at the curb to start CPR. They shocked his heart back into a regular rhythm, but wanted to fly him to Raleigh for further treatment. His sister, who had experienced cardiovascular care at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, suggested they take him there instead.

Rick was aware he had some history of heart disease, but felt like he had little warning. He started to get short of breath easily, but he assumed it was the extra weight he had recently gained. At one point, it was hard just to carry a toolbox. On the day of his heart attack, he didn’t experience any chest pain. He felt weak and could tell his heart wasn’t beating the right way. He probably could’ve seen the signs and had them checked, but he waited and ignored the symptoms, not thinking too much of them.

Dr. Berry was paged by CareLink, Cone Health’s interhospital ambulance service, as it was bringing Rick in. When CareLink reached Moses Cone Hospital, Rick was brought directly to the catheter lab, where Dr. Berry and a team were ready. Dr. Berry accessed an artery in Rick’s groin, sent a catheter up into his heart and using a tiny inflated balloon (a procedure known as a balloon angioplasty), opened a coronary artery that was fully blocked. Berry knew exactly where to go in Rick’s heart thanks to an electrocardiogram performed at Alamance Regional, which he was able to download and view on his smartphone.

Once the blockage in his heart was opened, Rick was moved to the Pulmonary Critical Care unit, where they used the Arctic Sun temperature-management system to cool his body to around 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooling the body’s temperature helps reduce swelling in the brain and neurological injury in patients whose brains have been without oxygen. Rick was cooled and sedated for 24 hours to preserve brain cells and help him recover from his heart attack.

Rick remembers his sister telling him what happened after he woke up, and the nurses testing his cognitive skills to see if there had been any lasting effects. It took a little while for the sedatives to wear off and for Rick to feel clear-headed and normal, but his care team worked with him every day, making him have conversations and really use his brain and think. Since then, Rick hasn’t noticed any change in his cognitive skills. It’s amazing, he received such incredible care during his stay at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital. A week later Rick was able to walk back into the hospital to shake hands with Dr. Berry.

Time is muscle. The longer the heart goes without oxygen, the higher the likelihood of long-term damage. Tiny pieces of the heart muscle called myocytes die every second they’re deprived of oxygen, and they do not regenerate. The sooner blood flow is restored; the better long term function will be. Recognizing the early symptoms of a heart attack and calling 911 for immediate treatment can make significantly increase your chance of survival and reduce long term damage to the heart. Early symptoms of heart attack include: shortness of breath, fatigue, back pain, nausea, jaw pain, anxiety, pain that travels down one or both arms and chest pressure, squeezing or discomfort. Moses Cone Hospital is recognized nationally for the quality of its heart attack treatment because of the teamwork and coordination we’ve spent thirty years building.

Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Jonathan Berry is an interventional cardiologist at CHMG HeartCare and the cardiovascular section chief and medical director of the peripheral vascular lab at Cone Health.  Dr. Berry is a 1983 graduate of University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, completing his residency in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center.  He specializes in interventional cardiology and peripheral vascular disease, completing fellowships at both Duke University Medical Center and University of Michigan Hospitals. Dr. Berry also serves as a clinical professor at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Rick Martin is a local Cone Health cardiovascular patient. He is a technical writer and web developer from Burlington, North Carolina.