FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) - Seconds count for someone having a heart attack.
Hospitals across the country are working hard to save precious time when they open blocked arteries.
Hospitals in Fort Wayne realize that and continuously perform above the national average.
Hospitals are encouraged to open someone's arteries within 90 minutes from arriving at the hospital.
That national average "door to balloon" time is 59 minutes.
Parkview and Lutheran are beating that with an average of about 50 minutes.
Many times, people have stints within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital.
"I'm glad they got me in and out. They saved my life," said heart attack survivor Ken Aker.
Ken's heart attack on Saturday, September 9 came out of no where.
He had just sat down to watch a movie when it hit.
"Just that quick, it felt like somebody set an elephant on my chest. I didn't know what was going on," said Ken.
He was taken to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne from his home in Decatur.
"All the doctors were activated, we took him directly to the cardiac cath lab and we opened up his blood vessel immediately," said Dr. Sanjiv Aggarwal, Ken's interventional cardiologist.
Dr. Aggarwal performed an angioplasty, where he inflated a tiny balloon to flatten the clog and put in a stint.
It was all done in 30 minutes.
Dr. Aggarwal said if Ken would've waited another 10 minutes to call 911, he wouldn't be alive.
"The sooner you get them to the Cath Lab, the more myocardium, or heart muscle, you save from damage," said Aggarwal.
"We have a very short time window to get that vessel open. We've been trying across the country to decrease that time interval from the time they present to the time we get that blood vessel open," said Dr. Mark O'Shaughnessy, Parkview cardiologist.
Parkview, like Lutheran, has been working to reduce "door to balloon" times for decades.
Dr. O'Shaughnessy said work to reduce those times starts the moment someone calls 911 and get paramedics on the scene.
"They can take a picture of the EKG and text it to ER providers on a secure phone and we can look at it that way. If we know the patient is having a heart attack before they get here, we're certainly activating cath lab," said O'Shaughnessy.
Dr. O'Shaughnessy said Parkview is always looking to get people who are having a heart attack opened up even quicker.
Parkview has a cardiologist on staff 24/7.
"Every step on the way, we're looking to see how we can stamp out 30 seconds here, 30 seconds there, and you can decrease that time continually," said O'Shaughnessy.
Lutheran Hospital has a different approach.
Its doctors are on call, but there is a special phone in the ER that automatically alerts the on call staff, who have to be ready to go within 20 minutes.
"If you get them within 90 minutes, you pretty much save the entire heart muscle from being damaged at all," said Dr. Aggarwal.
That was enough time for them to be waiting for Ken, who had a 31 minute ambulance ride from Decatur.
"I'm glad they got me in and out. They saved my life," Ken said.
Ken hasn't had a history of heart issues. Now he wants people to know it can happen to anyone, at anytime.
"I'm just glad I called when I did. If anybody gets that kind of feeling in their chest, don't hesitate," he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent says there are five common symptoms of a heart attack.
Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint.
Chest pain or discomfort.
Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder.
Shortness of breath.