Lancaster, Pa. -- It takes a lot of training and the latest technology to keep alive a heart attack patient, local EMS official Mike Fitzgibbons says.
"The first minutes (after a heart attack) are absolutely critical," and the sooner you can start treating the person properly "the better it will be," said Fitzgibbons, president and CEO of Lancaster-based Susquehanna Valley EMS.
Now, a top agency has honored the local emergency service for being the best at saving its heart attack patients.
Susquehanna Valley EMS had the highest overall survival rate for cardiac-arrest patients among agencies of its type across Pennsylvania that participate in a national database.
The 2011 survival rate for the local EMS agency was the best of 23 organizations in the state reporting to the CARES (Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival) program.
CARES tracked cardiac patients from the time an EMS crew was dispatched through the patients' time in the hospital, Fitzgibbons explained.
Susquehanna Valley EMS crews responded to 43 cardiac arrests last year. Of the 43, 14 survived to hospital admission and seven to the point of discharge from the hospital, officials with the Lancaster EMS service say.
CARES is a national organization that collects data from hospitals and then analyzes the figures to measure the cardiac patients' survival rates.
Fitzgibbons pointed to two reasons for the cardiac survival rate.
One is that his organization, which has 130 full- and part-time employees and 28 paramedics, maintains a high level of training: "We're very proud of our folks."
In addition, there's better equipment, such as new cardiac monitors that, when attached to the patient, allow Susquehanna Valley crews to transfer EKG (heart) readings to a hospital.
"It used to be we'd walk in the door with a heart attack patient, the doctor would read the EKG" and then he or she would determine the best course of action, Fitzgibbons said.
But with the readings transmitted from the ambulance to the ER, hospital officials can make what they feel is the best call before an ambulance arrives.
"It's a great tool for being able to transmit information from out in the field to the hospital," Fitzgibbons said.
Another helpful device for patient care has been a King Vision video laryngoscope that assists EMTs in visually guiding a breathing tube down the patient's throat, a great time-saving device.
Susquehanna Valley EMS was able to buy 12 of the devices, which cost $1,100 apiece. Its crews even went to a "cadaver lab" in Baltimore to train with the devices.
"Now we're able to get the breathing tube in quicker, make sure it's in properly and are able to get air into the patient as quick as possible," Fitzgibbons said.
There are other advances, too, such as cold fluid therapy, in which IV fluid is kept cool, so when it is introduced into the patient it lowers their body temperature, reducing brain injury.
Susquehanna Valley EMS, based at 126 Keller Ave., responds to more than 15,000 calls a year from stations in Columbia, East Hempfield Township, Lancaster, Mount Joy, Willow Street and Quarryville.
"It gets tougher every year, with cuts in Medicare, cuts in insurance, cuts from municipalities, to keep on providing this level of service," Fitzgibbons said.
"But we take patient care here very seriously. We're here to make sure they're taken care of the best that they possibly c