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A Sudden Change of Heart

Frank Vacante

When Frank Vacante woke with chest pains on a March Saturday morning, he didn't want to disturb his sleeping wife, Leslie or his son, Matt. He just drove towards Abington Memorial Hospital to get "checked out."

He made a brilliant maneuver on the way. Realizing the pain was too great to continue, he pulled into a convenience store parking lot and called 911 on his cell. Thanks to this decision and the actions of the police, local ambulance crew, Abington's Emergency Trauma Center (ETC) and cardiology team, Frank is here to tell his story.

The 52-year-old Fort Washington man was experiencing a massive heart attack and suffered a cardiac arrest. The Emergency Trauma team had to shock (defibrillate) Frank to bring him back. Later, Frank's heart stopped again. Life and death in the same instant. The cardiologist shocked his heart into beating a second time. Everyone took a breath.

Frank's wife awoke to a policeman at the door, telling her to call Abington's ETC. By the time she arrived, Frank was already in The Pilla Heart Center's catheterization laboratory, undergoing a balloon angioplasty. The cardiologist inserted a "balloon" through a catheter placed up to Frank's heart. He then inflated it to open the blocked blood vessel.

Total time from arrival at the Emergency Trauma Center door to the minimally invasive angioplasty: 70 minutes. The national average is 90 minutes. Every second spared reduces heart muscle damage and neurological impairment to the brain.

The Pilla Heart Center team had just finished the procedure when another patient presented with cardiac arrest. Beepers went crazy, and while staff made sure Frank remained stable, the cardiac team successfully saved the next heart patient.

Leslie remembers, "From the time I walked in, the doctors and nurses were so supportive of me and my family.

The cardiologist explained what had happened and why, and that it would be touch and go for a few days." After a course of medication to rest his heart, Frank's wife and his AMH team were relieved to find no brain or heart impairment.

Leslie was so appreciative she wrote thank you notes for publication in local papers. Frank says he's "feeling great." He's enrolled in Abington's Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.

"This man was very ill," says Frank's cardiologist, Asoka Balaratna, M.D. "To see him walk out of here without any complications of cardiac arrest means we all made the right decisions that day. Frank made the best choice of all. He stopped and called for help."

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