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New life-saving equipment en route for North Okanagan, Lake Country paramedics

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New, life-saving equipment will soon be available for paramedics in the North Okanagan and Lake Country.

The groundbreaking pilot project between the Interior Health Authority (IHA) and B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) will see eight ambulances equipped with portable electrocardiogram (ECG) machines.

The machines will allow paramedics to perform immediate tests on patients to determine if their symptoms are due to a heart attack.

Currently, when patients have chest pain, they are brought to Vernon Jubilee Hospital (VJH), where an ECG is performed.

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If the chest pain is diagnosed as a STEMI – a serious form of heart attack where the coronary artery is blocked and a large part of the heart muscle is unable to receive blood, the patients are stabilized and transferred to the cardiac cath lab in Kelowna.

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The portable ECG machines will allow patients to be diagnosed immediately on the spot.

If it’s determined that the patient has suffered a STEMI heart attack,  they will be directly transferred to Kelowna and the cath lab and bypass VJH.

That will allow for expedited treatment and direct access to critical care.

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“When patients are experiencing a heart attack, restoring blood flow is paramount, as heart muscle tissue does not regenerate when it dies,” said Trevor Campbell, an advanced care paramedic practice educator for BCEHS.

“Within the first hour of onset of symptoms, you lose about 50 per cent of the available heart muscle tissue being supplied by the affected artery. Within three hours, you’ll lose two-thirds of it.”

The portable machines will allow for quicker treatment, which will improve a patient’s outcome.

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“It drives home how important it is to have a diagnosis as soon as possible, in order to have a healthy heart after a heart attack,” Campbell said.

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The eight portable ECG machines cost nearly $25,000 each.

They are being covered thanks to donations made to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation by people and organizations from Lake Country, Predator Ridge, Vernon and Armstrong.

“It is very exciting for us – our seven internists, the entire ICU and our Emergency teams – to make this service available to our patients,” said Dr. Danie Roux, the head of VJH’s department of medicine.

“When I’m on call, I see, on average, one to two STEMI patients per week. This is a fantastic initiative.”

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The new ECG machines also provide advanced vital sign monitors and defibrillators, which means paramedics will also have the ability to acquire advanced vital signs and perform non-invasive blood pressure monitoring.

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Those tests can help paramedics provide the most appropriate care outside a hospital.

The test results will then immediately be transmitted to emergency room physicians, who will be able to establish preliminary diagnoses and allow medical teams to be more prepared when a patient arrives.

According to BCEHS, online training for paramedics has now been completed and one-on-one training will commence in March.

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