Chuck Raines and his wife Trang have run six marathons together since 2011. They don’t smoke, avoid junk food and stay active with their kids.
A heart attack was the last thing on the healthy 53-year-old’s mind. But he found out that it can happen to anybody.
After an easy run on a Sunday afternoon in August, Chuck noticed chest pain. “I sat down and took a break, and then I didn’t think much of it,” he says.
The next morning, the chest pain returned. This time it was worse. The retired Army master sergeant was no stranger to pushing through pain. “Being the person I am, I said, ‘It’s just going to go away.’”
Instead, the pain began radiating down his arm and into his jaw. He began sweating and feeling nauseated. He called Trang and said, “I think I need to go to the doctor when you get home.” But she insisted on dialing 911.
“Never in a million years did I think a heart attack would happen to me,” says Chuck. “I was in so much denial when it happened, even though the symptoms were right there in my face.”
A Critical Process
When Trang called 911, she set in motion a chain of events that were critical to saving Chuck’s life. An ambulance equipped with an electrocardiogram (EKG) monitor rushed to Chuck’s home in Owings. On the way to Anne Arundel Medical Center, technicians sent real-time EKG results to the emergency room (ER).
“We have a digital network that transmits from the ambulance to a central station in the emergency room,” says Jonathan Altschuler, MD, medical director of AAMC’s cardiac catheterization lab. “A doctor looks at it, and a decision is made to activate the cardiac catheterization team. Often our team gets there before the patient does.”
When Chuck arrived at the ER, Elizabeth Reineck, MD, an interventional cardiologist, met him at the door and whisked him to the cardiac catheterization lab.
“The artery supplying blood to the back of the heart was completely blocked,” says Dr. Reineck. “We opened the artery with a balloon and then stabilized it with a stent.”
The team completed the procedure 65 minutes after Chuck arrived at the ER. This period of time, called “door-to-balloon time,” is a critical measure of cardiac care. AAMC’s average door-to-balloon time is well below the national standard of 90 minutes.
“In our business, time is heart muscle,” says Dr. Reineck. “By opening the artery quickly, we minimize heart damage.”
An Innovative Approach
Dr. Reineck used a new approach to cardiac catheterization, reaching Chuck’s heart through the radial artery in his wrist. Nationally, radial access is used in about 25 percent of stenting procedures and in fewer than 10 percent of patients with emergency heart attacks.
“Radial catheterization has fewer vascular complications and less bleeding,” says Dr. Reineck. “For the patient, this means an easier recovery than the traditional route through the femoral artery in the groin.”
“When Chuck left the hospital, his heart function was normal,” says Dr. Reineck. “This was the best case scenario. Chuck acted fast in seeking medical attention, emergency medical technicians sent information from the field and our cath lab team quickly re-opened the culprit artery. By working together, we prevented damage to Chuck’s heart, giving him the best possible outcome.”
Chuck returned home after a week in the hospital. He enjoys swimming with his kids again. He’s back to work as an analyst for the federal government. And his doctors recently gave him the okay to resume running. Chuck and Trang are registered for the Big Sur Marathon in California this spring. “I’m a firm believer that I’m going to be out there running in April,” he says.
When he does, it will be lucky number seven.