Every Minute Matters
After surviving a heart attack, a local fire chief uses his experience to help others
Text and images provided by Northwest Health System
As division chief for the City of Bella Vista Fire Department, Scott Cranford plays a vital role in training and supervising first responders. On Oct. 21, 2019, however, it was Cranford who was in need of rescue when he suffered a heart attack at work.
The husband to Jessica and father of eight children ages 4 to 21, Cranford, 45, had never had any heart problems. He doesn’t drink or smoke and has led an active lifestyle, even losing 50 pounds over the past two years. A heart attack was not something he was overly worried about.
Cranford’s days are typically full, but Oct. 21 was an especially busy day. It began with a mass-casualty training exercise that was quickly followed by a real emergency that required evacuating residents who lived near the scene. “There was a lot of strain and stress as well as physical exertion,” Cranford recalls.
He noticed his first symptoms while responding to the real emergency. “I started feeling nauseous at the scene, but it went away,” he says. “Then, when we got back to the station, I felt general malaise [discomfort or uneasiness]. Then I got pale and diaphoretic [sweaty]. I was cold and couldn’t seem to get warm. It felt like I’d sucked in 15 minutes of cold air. I sat in a chair inside the fire station to recover and — even though I knew the symptoms of a heart attack — I was experiencing every bit of denial.”
His co-workers, fellow firefighters and paramedics, noticed something was wrong and hooked Cranford up to an EKG monitor. The EKG reading, however, didn’t definitively show any obvious signs of a heart attack. “The EKG monitor comes with a ‘doc in the box,’ an interpreting program that reads the EKG rhythm and interprets where a blockage, damage or heart attack may be occurring within the heart,” he explains. “However, the patient may be experiencing signs of a heart attack and those subtle differences aren’t detected by an EKG monitor so it’s important for individuals to pay attention to their symptoms and not just the diagnostic test. By trade, we follow the mantra of, ‘treat the patient, not the monitor.’”
So, Cranford agreed to sit down and rest for a bit, but he continued to feel nauseated. He went into the station’s front office and asked them to call for an ambulance. “When the crew rushed into the station, paramedic Leon Lieutard immediately hooked me up to the 12-lead EKG that showed anterior wall left myocardial infarction involving left anterior descending artery blockage,” he says. “That’s called the ‘widow maker’ because it kills so many people.”
While some of the next steps are fuzzy for Cranford, he recalls being loaded into an ambulance as paramedic Lieutard was calling Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville. Thanks to the newest protocols, first responders now identify heart attacks in the field and alert the hospital staff en route to activate the cardiac catheterization lab in order to have the staff ready as soon as the ambulance pulls in. This enables the patient to skip the emergency department altogether and get to the cardiac catheterization laboratory for lifesaving treatment faster.
“Every minute counts in a heart attack. The longer the artery is blocked, the greater the potential for death or permanent injury or disability,” says Northwest Health interventional cardiologist Dr. Pahul Singh. In Cranford’s case, the steps his co-workers took likely saved his life.
Cranford shares his experience in hopes that others will be reminded of the importance of knowing the signs of a heart attack. “I did not have any chest pain. The reality is that no one knows what a first-time heart attack or stroke is going to feel like to them,” he says. “For me, it kind of felt like the flu was coming on, but I didn’t buy into that because no one had the flu in the fire department. As a paramedic by trade, I know we try to diagnose ourselves. But what I would say to others is that there’s no way to know what signs and symptoms of a first-time event are going to feel like to you specifically. We are each different, and we can be our own worst enemy [by denying that our symptoms could be serious].
“As soon as you put together any of the signs and symptoms, you need to recognize what could be happening and call for help immediately. The speed with which you get to definitive care can be a matter of life or death,” Cranford says.
Dr. Singh adds, “Stay calm and call 911 right away if you experience any signs or symptoms of heart attack including chest pain, shortness of breath, jaw pain or profuse sweating, since every minute counts.”
Visit www.northwesthealth.comfor more information.
Widow maker heart attack: Cranford had a widow maker heart attack, one of the deadliest kinds of heart attacks and responsible for as many as one-third of sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. It happens when a blockage occurs in the left anterior descending artery. This vessel provides blood and oxygen to the entire front of the heart (about 40% of the heart’s blood supply), a significantly larger area than other coronary arteries supply.
At Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville and Northwest Medical Center-Springdale, the staff routinely outperforms national average door-to-balloon times. Door-to-balloon time — or definitive treatment to unblock an artery — has been set as a core quality measure for hospitals who are accredited by The Joint Commission. Critical to treatment is the interdisciplinary team that extends beyond the walls of the hospital and includes emergency medical services and all first responders.