When Every Minute Matters – Surviving a Severe Heart Attack

Willie Salazar, 59, was scheduled for a stress test following two weeks of chest pain. “It was a stingy pain that wouldn’t let me breathe,” he describes. That stress test never happened. May 16, 2014 Willie was home alone when the chest pain returned and did not go away. “It got stronger and stronger. I got dizzy and didn’t know where I was." 

Willie called both his wife and his brother to see who could come to his aid first. They were about 20 minutes away and called 911. “It got kind of scary there for a while,” Willie recalls. On cholesterol and blood pressure medications since his twenties to control his risk for developing heart disease, Willie thought taking nitroglycerin pills would help. “They didn’t do anything for me.” 

When the ambulance arrived, Willie was transported to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Sante Fe. Paramedics assessed his condition and alerted the hospital en route. “By the time I got to St. Vincent’s,” Willie remembers, “they had already called the chopper to take me to Albuquerque.”

Willie lay in the helicopter listening to the repetitive noise of the rotor move through the dessert sky, “I couldn’t open my eyes and see what was going on.” The Tri State Care Flight team arrived at the Heart Hospital of New Mexico at Lovelace Medical Center 37 minutes after departure – 9:28 p.m.

As soon as Willie was brought into the hospital, a team of doctors and nurses met him. “There were working on me as soon as I was inside the door,” he adds. By 9:51 p.m. the blocked arteries were opened with three stents. Willie had suffered a heart attack known as a ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). Heart disease runs in his family. His father passed away at the age of 70 from heart disease after suffering four heart attacks. His brother had also suffered four heart attacks by the age of 68.

The swift action by the paramedics, and teams at St. Vincent’s and the Heart Hospital of New Mexico at Lovelace Medical Center helped save Willie’s life when every minute mattered. “Total door to door to balloon time was 75 minutes,” explains Heart Hospital of New Mexico at Lovelace Medical Center CP/STEMI manager Maria Elana Atencio. “We usually allow for 120 minutes for STEMI patients that come from another facility.  This is an excellent example of how the STEMI flow process should work.” 

The Heart Hospital of New Mexico at Lovelace Medical Center was recently the only hospital in the state to receive the silver Mission: Lifeline Receiving Center quality achievement award from the American Heart Association for the treatment of patients who suffer severe heart attacks. It is currently the highest recognition in New Mexico. Click here to learn more.