Since I was in second grade, I told anyone who would listen that I wanted to be a nurse or a doctor. I thought I wanted to be a pediatrician, but once I got to school I decided to pursue nursing because I wanted the opportunity to spend more time with patients and families. After 23 years as a nurse, I can say, without a doubt, it was the right choice.
I’ve done many things in my career. I’ve worked in the Cardiac Care Unit. I worked in a Cardiac Thoracic Intensive Care Unit, taking care of patients after open heart surgery. When I came to Capital Health, I worked in the Emergency Department. But I never lost my passion for cardiac care—I really do love cardiac medicine. So when Dr. Kristopher Young, medical director of the Capital Health Chest Pain Center, asked me to work with him on the accreditation process for the Chest Pain Center, I accepted. Our successful accreditation led to me becoming the Chest Pain Center coordinator.
The most satisfying part of my job is knowing we can affect change, that what we are doing makes a difference in the lives of our patients. Chest pain is the number one complaint when people come into the Emergency Room (ER)—it’s probably also one of the scariest complaints. Stroke and chest pain seem to be those two areas that concern people the most, and rightfully so. Having a heart attack or a stroke can change your life. At the Chest Pain Center, we save lives, and we’ve done many things to speed up diagnosis and treatment. For those people who come in who aren’t having a heart attack, we’re able to ease their minds quickly.
When you have a heart attack, time is of the essence. If you don’t open a blocked vessel in 2 hours, muscle begins to die. At the center, we’ve been able to reduce our time from the patient coming in the door and getting up to the cardiac catheterization lab. The standard is less than 90 minutes, and in the first half of last year, we were the only hospital in the area that was 100 percent compliant on the state dashboard. In some cases, our time is around 35 minutes from the time the patient comes in the door to when we can open the vessel. When we save the heart muscle, the patient has fewer problems after the heart attack.
Heart attacks have beginnings and ends; they don’t just happen in that moment. They usually start days and sometimes weeks before the actual event. When you talk to people after they have a heart attack, they can’t believe how much energy they have. Two or 3 days before the heart attack, they can’t do anything without being tired. Some people have symptoms that are intermittent or considered minor by them; they know something isn’t quite right but can’t put their finger on it. That’s your body telling you something.
Even with national campaigns and awareness, many women do not know that heart disease is the number one killer of women—1 in 4 women die of heart disease in the United States. Women need to talk to their health care providers and learn about their risk for heart disease and how to prevent or treat it. Since women don’t know their risk of heart disease or the symptoms, they don’t always go to the ER when they are experiencing heart attack symptoms. Women often tell me that they don’t have time to be sick. We forget to take care of ourselves because we take care of everyone else. I’m guilty of it. I have two small kids, and I don’t always make enough time for myself.
I think there is a lot of work to be done to educate the community. One of the programs I’m most proud of is our Capital Health Heart School for 4th and 5th graders. It was based on our successful Stroke School and talks about what causes a heart attack, the signs and symptoms, and the importance of calling 9-1-1. We also hone in on risk factors of heart disease and healthy living. There are a growing number of at-risk youth in our schools. They have a higher rate of childhood obesity, and diabetes is on the rise. We talk about eating well and developing good habits and suggest sharing these lessons with their families. We still have work to do, but we’re going in the right direction.