Lucky Dad’s Story a Reminder to Evaluate Risk for Disease During Heart Awareness Month

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February is American Heart Month, dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease, increasing knowledge about prevention, and learning the signs of a heart attack. It’s a month that recognizes cardiac rehabilitation, cardiovascular professionals and congenital heart defects. For Michael Alter, February is a reminder of the close call he had with his own heart at age 42. He tried to ride out his chest pains – a mistake he wished he hadn’t made. Luckily, he turned to Northwest Community Hospital in Chicago’s suburbs.

Michael Alter's story is a reminder to evaluate risk for disease during Heart Awareness Month.

From Michael Alter's arrival in NCH's Emergency Department to the angioplasty treatment, just 48 minutes elapsed. The national average is 90 minutes. And that meant he was on the road to recovery that much faster.

Michael Alter was watching his children one day in September 2010 when suddenly he couldn’t breathe. “I started getting lower chest pains and I began sweating profusely,” he said. Still, Alter couldn’t believe it was anything serious. “After all,” he thought, “I’m only 42.” So the northwest suburban resident tried to ride it out – a mistake he later wished he hadn’t made.

By the time a neighbor brought him to an Immediate Care Center of Northwest Community Hospital, he was already in the throes of a major heart attack. So, an ambulance transported him to NCH in Arlington Heights, and in short order, he was taken to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab.

There, Dr. Manjeet Sethi, chief of cardiology, quickly performed a minimally invasive angiogram, which provided a real-time view of Alter's arteries, pinpointing an area of blockage. Then Dr. Sethi performed angioplasty – a procedure used to open blocked or narrowed coronary arteries. Once the artery was reopened, a steel mesh stent – resembling a porous tube – was left in place to strengthen the wall.

Alter was lucky. Lucky he was taken to the first hospital in Chicago’s northwest suburbs to be designated as an accredited Chest Pain Center by the Society of Chest Pain Centers. Lucky NCH has a dedicated interventional team that has performed thousands of cardiac procedures. And lucky he didn't wait any longer.

“Time is of the essence, because the longer you wait, the more the heart muscle gets damaged,” Dr. Sethi said. “Within a few hours and without treatment, the heart damage becomes complete, and then it’s irreversible.”

Today, Alter participates in a monitored cardiac rehabilitation program three days a week at NCH's Wellness Center. One final piece of luck for Alter: From his arrival in NCH's Emergency Department to the angioplasty treatment, just 48 minutes elapsed. The national average is 90 minutes. And that meant he was on the road to recovery that much faster.

Northwest Community Hospital offers screenings and educational seminars on heart awareness throughout the year, including a Heart Smart event on Feb. 26 where you can receive a personalized cardiovascular risk assessment. For more information, visit the hospital online at http://www.nch.org/heartsmart.

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Blaine Krage

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