May 2011

Know Where To Go - Because Minutes Matter - Hilton Head Hospital's Heart Rescue Programs Saves TIme and Lives

Author: Stacey Studley Collins | Photographer: Photography by Anne

For the last three years, Hilton Head Hospital has received recognition and top honors for successfully treating heart attacks. They have reduced the average time it takes to restore blood flow to under an hour, an astounding 33 percent faster than the American College of Cardiology’s recommended 90 minute guideline.

Over a lifetime, the average healthy human heart beats in the neighborhood of 1.5 billion times. Yet for all its miraculous efficiency, we seldom give the heart a second thought until it’s too late.

Perhaps you’ve said to yourself, “I’m fit, I’m active and I don’t have a family history of heart disease. What have I got to worry about?” That’s exactly what Bluffton resident Richard Frankowski thought until a massive heart attack stopped him in his tracks on the smooth green surface of a Berkeley Hall tennis court.

Just seven strokes into his warm-up for a doubles match, Frankowski literally died on the court. As one of his opponents started CPR, another sprinted to the clubhouse to call an ambulance. Without a moment to lose, Derrek Lemire, the club’s fitness director, grabbed the facility’s defibrillator and rushed to the fallen player.

Finding Frankowski unresponsive, Lemire hooked up the defibrillator, pausing only to help him breath. When the reading, “Shock Advised,” popped onto the screen, Lemire recalls thinking, “I can’t believe I’m actually going to do this.”

Fortunately, Lemire is a former lifeguard and certified Red Cross instructor with more than 10 years of training. “We have defibrillators on hand for just such emergencies,” Lemire said. “But, even though it’s my job to ensure that the staff is properly trained in their use, I had never actually used it on a real person having a heart attack. It was surreal.”

Lemire’s quick response was just the first of many split second decisions that played key roles in saving Frankowski’s life, according to his cardiovascular & thoracic surgeon, Dr. David Kastl of Hilton Head Hospital. He said it is a total team effort to save a life in these kinds of dire circumstances.

Knowing that not all area hospitals have the capacity for surgical intervention, Beaufort County EMT paramedic Kevin Peeples took immediate action in directing the ambulance to Hilton Head Hospital, even though a different hospital was a shorter distance from the incident.

Peeples and his EMT colleagues Robi Moulis and Shawn Gleeson issued a “Code STEMI Alert” (Active Heart Attack—STEMI) to Hilton Head Hospital that an urgent heart attack victim was being rushed their way.

“I was really glad EMT knew what they were doing,” said Frankowski. “Every local resident needs to know that Hilton Head Hospital is the only PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention) receiving hospital between Savannah and Charleston, which means it is the closest hospital with the complete package of nurses, cardiologists and a surgical team necessary to successfully treat a heart attack.”

“Time is the critical element with heart attacks,” Kastl said. “Arriving late to a distant PCI hospital or being transported to a non-PCI hospital wastes valuable time and heart muscle. If Mr. Frankowski had been brought somewhere else, he probably wouldn’t be alive today.”

Kastl then described what he calls “the golden hour,” a defined period of time during which restoring blood flow to the heart is essential. “Beyond those precious minutes, heart muscle begins to die and the patient’s quality of life and even survival rate diminishes. That is why our Code STEMI Team was waiting at the door when the ambulance arrived, because the EMT had alerted the emergency room physicians immediately to the urgency of the situation.”

Bluffton reesidents Richard Frankowski and his wife Donna

“People need to know this,” said Frankowski’s wife Donna. “We had no idea how important getting to the right hospital was.”

Doctors Jonathan Maccabe and J. Calvin Sharp were the cardiologists waiting for Frankowski. The emergency cardiac catheterization procedure disclosed that Frankowski needed immediate heart surgery; a triple coronary bypass was performed by Kastl. The procedure was so successful that Frankowski was discharged in four days.

Having been revived by the EMT and alert enough to speak, Frankowski recalls asking his nurse whether he might suffer brain damage. “What’s the last thing you remember,” she responded.

“I was on the court analyzing my opponent’s topspin and thinking he’d probably go wide,” Frankowski said.

“Then, you’ll be just fine,” she quipped.

Frankowski would come to learn that laughter really is an excellent medicine in times like this. “They made me laugh a lot,” he recalled.

Throughout the ordeal, Frankowski says he appreciated that the hospital staff never neglected his wife.

According to Donna, the staff was very concerned with her comfort and making sure someone would be with her while the surgery was being performed. “You need to have somebody here. You don’t know what this is going to be like for you,” she remembers them saying.

“And they were right,” Donna said. “My husband had literally died on the tennis court.” As the surgical team performed the emergency operation, the gravity of her husband’s condition slowly set in. Her voice still cracks as she recounts the respect and compassion the hospital staff exhibited through the whole process.

“Hilton Head’s heart team is incredible,” Donna said. “You could tell every one of them, from the nurses to the doctors, loved their job and really cared.”



A sudden intense heart attack, like the ones portrayed on TV, may seem obvious. But most heart attacks are far more subtle, starting slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often the affected person isn’t sure what’s wrong and waits too long before getting help. Here are the signs to watch out for:

• Chest Discomfort—an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain that lasts more than a few minutes or that recurs

• Upper Body Discomfort—in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach

• Shortness of Breath

• Cold Sweat, Nausea or Lightheadedness

Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out. Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives—maybe your own. Call 911 and ask to be taken to the nearest PCI hospital.

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