In December 2015, Audrey Baumtrog went into sudden cardiac arrest while driving home in the Twin Cities. Emergency responders found Baumtrog slumped over her steering wheel of her vehicle. They tried resuscitating the 55-year-old woman 33 times that day, but each time she would only come back briefly.
Fortunately, the EMS team at the scene knew of a new process at University of Minnesota Health for cardiac arrest patients who do not respond to defibrillation, which is the use of electrical shocks to restore normal heart rhythm. They rushed her to University of Minnesota Medical Center, where she was met by Cardiologist Demetris Yannopoulos, MD, who put her on cardiac and respiratory life support, then performed several emergency procedures to save her life.
On New Year’s Eve—less than two weeks after her heart shut down—Baumtrog left the hospital awake, alive and well.
“It’s just absolutely incredible that I’m still here,” Baumtrog said. “I’m so lucky that I had Dr. Y. with me.”
Sudden cardiac arrest is different than a heart attack. A heart attack happens when built-up plaque blocks an artery supplying blood to the heart muscle. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when an electrical problem causes the heart to stop beating.
Standard treatment procedure for cardiac arrest calls for defibrillation. Failing that, first responders may perform CPR for 30 to 40 minutes in an effort to revive the person. These efforts can often halt cardiac arrest and save a person’s life. However, this approach doesn’t always work. Instead, the person experiencing sudden cardiac arrest may need surgery or another intervention to repair his or her heart.
Yannopoulos’ new process has now been implemented across several health systems in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. It calls for patients who do not respond to defibrillation to be transported by ambulance to the cardiac catheterization lab at University of Minnesota Medical Center. On the way there, the person receives continual CPR from a device in the ambulance. At the medical center, the person is connected to a life support system—giving the care team time to identify and fix the issue causing cardiac arrest.
“You’re doing what has normally been a more controlled procedure in an emergency situation,” said Kim Harkins. “These patients are very sick. They require an enormous amount of care and they need it fast.”
Harkins manages the Minnesota Resuscitation Consortium at the University of Minnesota. The consortium is a collaborative effort at the university to improve cardiac arrest survival rates. The consortium educates community groups, first responders and the public on how to respond when sudden cardiac arrest occurs. Yannopoulos is the consortium’s medical director.
The consortium has helped make the Twin Cities the first large metropolitan area in the United States to have a dedicated system in place to aid cardiac arrest patients whose bodies don’t respond to defibrillation. Their efforts have earned national acclaim, and have saved the lives of many other people who may otherwise have died after resuscitation efforts failed on the scene or in the emergency department.
“This is the first time the process has been implemented for a large number of patients, so that we can really see and examine the impact it can have,” Harkins said.
Audrey Baumtrog counts herself lucky to be one of the people saved by Yannopoulos’ new clinical approach. Because of the consortium’s work, her emergency responders knew they needed to bring her to University of Minnesota Medical Center as quickly as possible.
After Baumtrog arrived at the hospital and was connected to life support, Yannopoulos discovered that her left anterior descending (LAD) artery—which supplies the heart muscle with blood—had unraveled. The lack of an adequate blood supply had caused Baumtrog’s heart to abruptly stop. Using a catheter, Yannopoulos immediately inserted four stents into the LAD artery and other blood vessels around Baumtrog’s heart. Stents are small tubes—often made of mesh—that can be placed into a narrow or blocked blood vessel to reopen or strengthen it. After repairing her heart, Yannopoulos put Baumtrog in a temporary medically induced coma to prevent damage due to swelling in her brain.
That quick care changed Baumtrog’s life. Today, Baumtrog is 57 years old and doing fine. She has seven stents in her heart in all—her cardiologists went back in to put three more later—but she hasn’t experienced any residual effects following her sudden cardiac arrest episode over two years ago.
“I owe my life to Dr. Yannopoulos and his care team,” she said. “Everything is OK now. Everything is back to normal.”