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Northwest suburban resident Michael Alter was watching his children one day in September 2010 when suddenly he couldn't breathe. "I started getting lower chest pains and I began sweating profusely," he says. Still, he couldn't believe it was anything serious. After all, he thought, I'm only 42. So he tried to ride it out. A mistake he later wished he hadn't made.
By the time a neighbor brought him to an NCH Immediate Care Center, he was already in the throes of a major heart attack. So, an ambulance transported him to Northwest Community Hospital, and, in short order, he was taken to the Hospital's Cardiac Catheterization Lab.
There, Manjeet Sethi, MD, chief of cardiology at NCH, quickly performed a minimally invasive angiogram, which provided a real-time view of Alter's arteries, pinpointing an area of blockage. From there, Dr. Sethi used angioplasty to reopen the artery by inflating a tiny balloon to compress the blockage to the artery's outer walls.
To perform the angioplasty, a small incision was made and a catheter with a balloon was inserted and guided through the patient's artery until it reached the point of the blockage. Once the artery was reopened, a steel mesh stent, resembling a porous tube, was left in place to strengthen the wall.
Alter was lucky. Lucky he was taken to the first hospital in the northwest suburbs to be designated as an accredited Chest Pain Center by the Society for Chest Pain Centers. Lucky NCH has a dedicated interventional team that's performed thousands of cardiac procedures. And lucky he didn't wait any longer.
"Time is of the essence, because the longer you wait, the more myocardium [heart muscle] gets damaged," says Dr. Sethi. "Within a few hours [and without treatment], the heart damage becomes complete and then it's irreversible."
Today, Alter participates in a monitored cardiac rehabilitation program three days a week at NCH's Wellness Center. One final piece of luck for Alter: From his arrival in NCH's Emergency Room to the angioplasty treatment, just 48 minutes elapsed. The national average is 90 minutes. And that meant he was on the road to recovery that much faster.
Remember to always call 911 immediately if you think you are or someone else is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.