Vital Heart Response

Paramedics inside ambulance
In Strathcona County, you have access to highly trained EMS professionals

Innovative care for heart attack patients 

If you are having a heart attack, don’t wait to get help. Not only does every second count, but as a resident of Strathcona County, you have access to highly trained EMS professionals and a world leading program to treat heart attacks. And all you need to do is call 9-1-1. In Strathcona County, patients with symptoms of a heart attack wait an average of 3.5 hours before calling for help! 

The sooner you call 9-1-1:

  • the sooner you will receive cutting edge care 
  • the less the heart may be damaged
  • the better the chances of making a full recovery  

Residents of central and northern Alberta are fortunate to have access to a world leading program only available in three other areas in the entire country. The Alberta Health Services program is called Vital Heart Response. Its focus is to treat victims of heart attacks as quickly as possible, often in their own homes before being transported to hospital. The program uses Advanced Care Paramedics to quickly identify heart attacks and then link those paramedics to cardiologists in the Edmonton area. They then work together quickly to treat heart attacks and save lives. 

What is a heart attack and what is Vital Heart Response? 

The heart muscle needs oxygen to survive. A heart attack is when something stops blood and oxygen from getting to all areas of the heart muscle. As soon as the heart muscle doesn’t have oxygen, it begins to suffer injury. 

While there are several causes of heart attacks, the most common is a clot in the heart that stops blood and oxygen from getting to the heart muscle. When a patient calls 9-1-1, paramedics arrive and are able to determine the type of heart attack they are having in consultation with a cardiologist. This includes running an electrocardiogram (EKG) on the heart.

If it is determined that the patient is having a severe heart attack and meets important criteria for Vital Heart Response, there are two methods of treatment that paramedics can initiate on scene at your home to save your heart. 

In the first method, paramedics give a specialized “clot busting” medication, called Teneceplase, right into the blood stream that will work to break apart the clot that is causing the heart attack. This returns to flow of blood and oxygen to the stressed area of the heart. 

In the second method, paramedics will administer medications to “thin” your blood and prevent the clot of getting worse and then quickly transport you to a specialized area hospital. Once at hospital, doctors physically treat the heart, using a treatment called angioplasty to go in and open up the blocked arteries with a catheter. 

Paramedics with patient in ambulance

Program leaders in our own community

The Vital Heart program started in Alberta in 2006 and Strathcona County Emergency Services was one of the first services to be chosen to be part of it. This program has grown to cover most of northern and central Alberta and is the largest of its kind in the world. 

The commitment to providing patients and family members with a high-level of care is reflected in the statistics when looking back at 2018. 

  • In Strathcona County, our firefighter/paramedics were able to cut six minutes off the average time for getting the clot busting heart saving medication administered (24.6 minutes vs. 30.3 minutes). 
  • Where transporting to a specialized hospital was required, Strathcona County was able to begin treatment and get to the hospital in 76 minutes (average is 100 minutes).

There are several factors that contribute to this success. An integrated three-person ambulance system, good dispatching, strategic long-term planning and staff that work hard to provide the best level of care they can to Strathcona County.

Did you know?

  • A heart attack and cardiac arrest are not the same thing. Many people think they are. A heart attack is damage to your heart, while cardiac arrest means your heart has stop pumping blood to the rest of your body. 
  • On the average, women take two to four hours longer than men to respond to symptoms of heart attack.
  • There are many medical terms that are used to refer to heart attack. This includes Myoaridal Infarction or “MI”, STEMI (ST-elevation myocardial infarction) and NSTEMI (Non-ST-elevated myocardial infarction).
  • The only other places in North America with EMS giving the clot busting medication are Winnipeg, Nova Scotia, and a pilot program in Kelowna and Kamloops.
Emergency Services
Administration office Fire Station 6, 915 Bison Way, Sherwood Park
Phone: 780-467-5216
Email: emergencyservices@strathcona.ca

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Last updated: Thursday, December 19, 2019
Page ID: 50640