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Pilot program credited with helping Okanagan man survive heart attack

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A pilot program in B.C.’s Interior is being credited for saving an Okanagan’s man life earlier this year.

B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) says Vernon resident Doug Bigelow suffered a heart attack in January, and that quick actions of paramedics and a call-taker helped him survive.

Bigelow was moving firewood on his farm on a Saturday afternoon when he began experiencing chest pain. The 76-year-old tried to shake it off, but soon realized what was happening.

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“I’ve never had a heart attack before, so I was dwelling in denial, thinking I could shower and change before making my way into town,” said Bigelow.

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“But within minutes, I knew I was in trouble — the pain was becoming really tough.”

According to BCEHS, Doug’s wife, Kate, helped her husband into their truck, then began driving to the hospital. Kate was planning to alert the hospital, but didn’t have the number so she called 911 instead.

“I’m someone who panics easily,” said Kate, “but as soon as the guy on the line answered, he told me ‘Don’t worry. We’ve got this.’

“I felt like I was enveloped in support. He was so steady and caring.”

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Enter the pilot program — Collaborative Heart Attack Management Program (CHAMP) — which gives primary care paramedics in the Okanagan access to expanded cardiac monitoring in their ambulances.

CHAMP is a collaboration between BCEHS, provincial health services, health-care partners in Interior Health and several private foundations.

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BCEHS says CHAMP was launched last April, adding it equips and trains paramedics to get crucial diagnostics of patients faster, allowing them to bypass the local hospital and take patients straight to advanced cardiac care in Kelowna.

Rather than drive Bigelow to the hospital, plans were made to meet paramedics along the highway.

“As soon as we arrived at the meet-up point, we were met by the advanced life-support paramedic, followed by two other paramedics moments later,” said Bigelow.

“Everybody gave us their names. The advanced life support paramedic had a calmness and confidence that was awfully reassuring. He said, ‘We’re going to take care of you. Don’t worry.’”

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“Seconds count when you’re dealing with a heart attack,” said Don Hagen, an advanced life-support paramedic who treated Bigelow.

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“This program helped us get the patient the lifesaving care he needed the moment he arrived at the hospital.”

BCEHS said Bigelow underwent an angioplasty, a procedure used to open blocked coronary arteries.

“I’m alive because of four people from the BC Ambulance Service,” said Bigelow. “If we did not have 911 on the line when we did, and the paramedics hadn’t met us when they did, I probably wouldn’t be alive today.”

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BCEHS says it receives an average of 56,000 cardiac-related calls each year, ranging from chest pain to heart problems to cardiac arrests.

Answering the 911 call that day was Gregory Vaal.

“We work like detectives to finesse the medical information we need to paint a clear picture of what has happened or is happening with the patient,” said Vaal.

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“As an ambulance 911 call taker, who is also an advanced care paramedic, I quickly realized that the patient was likely experiencing a heart attack.

“I stayed on the phone with the caller until she made contact with our paramedics. It was so fulfilling to hear her say that the paramedics were already at the meet point when she arrived.”

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Paramedics who helped Bigelow included Jeremy Kroeker and Andrew Mcdonald,

“We go to every call providing that level of care and compassion and sometimes we don’t recognize how important it is to patients,” said Kroeker. “Staying calm and providing reassurance can make the biggest difference.”

BCEHS says anyone who experiences chest pain should call 911 immediately rather than drive to the hospital or to a doctor’s office.

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If you are not experiencing a medical emergency, call 811 to speak with a registered nurse for confidential health information and advice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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