Yvette Samuels was listening to jazz late one night when she felt a stabbing pain down her left shoulder. She suspected a heart attack — she had heard about the symptoms from watching a Rosie O'Donnell standup routine on television — and managed to scratch on the door that connected her single room to her neighbor's. He found her collapsed on the floor.
Paramedics arrived minutes later and slapped electrocardiogram leads on her chest, transmitting the telltale pattern of a heart attack to Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center here.
As the ambulance raced through the streets, lights swirling, sirens screaming, Ms. Samuels, who took phone orders for a company that delivers milk, asked the paramedic, "Can this kill me?" He murmured yes, then told the driver, "Step on it!" She thought to herself, "This will be my last view of the world, the last time I will see the night sky."
Instead, she survived, her heart undamaged, the beneficiary of the changing face of heart attack care. With no new medical discoveries, no new technologies, no payment incentives — and little public notice — hospitals in recent years have slashed the time it takes to clear a blockage in a patient's arteries and get blood flowing again to the heart.
The changes have been driven by a detailed analysis of the holdups in treating patients and a nationwide campaign led by the American College of Cardiology, a professional society for specialists in heart disease, and the American Heart Association. Hospitals across the country have adopted common-sense steps that include having paramedics transmit electrocardiogram readings directly from ambulances to emergency rooms and summoning medical teams with a single call that sets off all beepers at once.