Door-to-Balloon Time: Quick heart attack treatment saves Orland Park woman

In May 2011, 67-year-old Judith O’Sullivan’s life was saved at Little Company of Mary Hospital—and this can be credited to the impressive door-to-balloon time upheld at the hospital.

Door-to-balloon time is a term coined by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) to describe the time it takes to recognize and treat a heart attack patient with balloon angioplasty, stents, or both after he or she arrives at the hospital. The ACC recommends 90 minutes or less. Patients who do not receive lifesaving heart care within 90 minutes face an increased risk of death within the first year after their heart attack; a weakened heart muscle; and greater complications overall. For patients at Little Company of Mary, door-to-balloon time is well below that – 70 minutes or less on average.

O’Sullivan’s story begins on a typical workday. She was busy checking in food orders at the local grocery store where she works. Out of the blue, O’Sullivan started feeling dizzy and hot—she was having a heart attack. After receiving CPR from a quick-thinking customer, an ambulance transported her to the hospital.

When she arrived in the emergency department, O’Sullivan’s heart rate was 20 beats per minute; her blood pressure dangerously low at 60. “She was in critical condition and cardiogenic shock,” explains Dr. Daniel Rowan, board-certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the hospital’s Interventional Cardiology Department and the Cardiac Catheterization Lab.

Once she entered the hospital’s emergency department doors, the clock started ticking on door-to-balloon time. A 12-lead electrocardiogram (EKG) confirmed the presence of a particular type of heart attack called a STEMI (ST segment elevation myocardial infarction) that requires fast treatment in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab. (A STEMI occurs when a coronary artery is totally occluded by a blood clot.)

“Time is (heart) muscle,” Dr. Rowan explains. “The quicker we can open up a blocked artery, the better the chance we have of saving the patient.” Within minutes, O’Sullivan was rushed to the catheterization lab where Dr. Rowan opened up her blocked artery, inserted three stents to keep it open, and put in an intra-aortic balloon pump to lessen the load on her weakened heart. She also received a temporary pacemaker to maintain a normal heart rhythm and special medication to keep her blood pressure at a healthy level. Her life was saved by the fast response time of the entire Little Company of Mary team.

“Mrs. O’Sullivan’s right coronary artery was 100-percent blocked,” Dr. Rowan added. “Initially, her heart appeared to be very damaged from the heart attack, but it has made an almost complete recovery. Her recovery is a testament to our team approach. The catheterization staff, along with the Emergency Department, did an outstanding job.”

More About Door-to-Balloon Time
Little Company of Mary Hospital has performed cardiac interventions for 11 years. In 2000, the hospital became the first in Illinois to participate in a registry program with Johns Hopkins’ Atlantic Cardiovascular Patient Outcomes Research Team (C-PORT). Under the direction of Dr. Rowan, the hospital has successfully performed numerous angioplasties and stents in emergencies where time is critical.

From the beginning, Little Company of Mary has worked hard to maintain its impressive door-to-balloon timeframe. In fact, in mid-September, The Joint Commission – the national organization that accredits and certifies more than 19,000 health care organizations and facilities in the United States – recognized Little Company of Mary as one of only 18 hospitals in Illinois to be named a “Top Performer on Key Quality Measures,”—one of which is heart attack treatment. This places the hospital in the top 14 percent of all reporting hospitals in the nation.

For more information about Little Company of Mary’s heart program, visit For a referral to a cardiologist, call 1-866-540-LCMH (5264).

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