HELENA — The American Heart Association on Monday announced a $4.6 million donation to fund a three-year initiative seeking to improve the emergency medical response to heart attacks in rural Montana.
The money, from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, will fund what’s being called Mission: Lifeline. The Heart Association Western States Affiliate will raise an additional $833,000 for the project and provide $1.2 million in in-kind services.
“This is a great day for health in Montana,” said Kathy Rogers, executive vice president of the American Heart Association Western State’s Affiliate.
Gov. Steve Bullock thanked the Helmsley Trust and the American Heart Association for the investment they are making in Montana.
“This is indeed a big day for the Big Sky state and a cause for celebration,” Bullock said.
He said it represents a significant investment in Montana’s health-care system, especially in the rural parts of the state.
While the state has pushed for prevention as the most effective way to improve health and reduce health care costs, Bullock said the health providers also must be prepared for when someone with a heart attack or other medical emergency arises.
Physicians have said that by improving, even by a few minutes, the length of time it takes to get someone with a heart attack to treatment, more lives can be saved, he said.
“That means more parents and grandparents who will be around for their families,” Bullock said. “More employees will be able to fully go back to work after a heart attack.”
“Time is muscle,” Dr. Douglas Waldo, an interventional cardiologist from Great Falls, said.
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The longer art artery is blocked, the more heart muscle damage occurs, he said.
Waldo said cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death nationally and in Montana.
The most serious type of heart attack is known as an ST-elevated myocardial infarction or STEMI, in which the blood flow is completely blocked to a portion of the heart. Unless this blockage is eliminated quickly, a patient’s life and health are at serious risk.
The death rate from STEMI depends greatly on how quickly patients are treated, Waldo said.
Rogers said the heart association and American College of Cardiology’s guidelines call for a balloon angioplasty to be done within 90 minutes or less on people with heart attacks.
In 2012, nearly 1,800 people in Montana were hospitalized with acute heart attacks, including 777 of them diagnosed with STEMI, according to state health and hospital officials.
Some money will go to equip all Montana ambulances with mobile electrocardiograms and related equipment to electronically transmit heart test results from emergency vehicles to hospitals.
That way a hospital can have a cardiologist ready to immediately treat someone with a heart attack. These electrocardiograms, with accessories, cost $25,000 apiece.
Some money also will go to provide ongoing training for emergency medical service providers and hospital employees. It also will help fund the development of protocols and policies for dealing with heart attacks.
Since 2010, the Helmsley Charitable Trust and American Heart Association have launched Mission: Lifeline projects in South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota and Nebraska. Counting the donation to Montana, the Helmsley Charitable Trust now has committed $32.2 million to this effort, program officer Trista Kontz-Bartels said.