Heart Month: First responders on the frontlines of heart disease

GREENVILLE, NC (WITN) - It's Valentine's Day and our hearts are doing some 'heart' work for us today and every day. Coinciding with the loving holiday ever year is the American Heart Association's Heart Month when many groups work to raise awareness for the leading cause of death globally -- heart disease.

Statistics from the American Heart Association show that one million Americans will have a heart attack or die from coronary heart disease this year, and 356,000 cardiac arrests will occur outside the hospital.

Paramedics and EMT's are on the frontlines of this epidemic alongside doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. At Greenville Fire-Rescue, first responders see cardiac calls day in and day out.

Greenville Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Brock Davenport says that patients often wait until they've been in pain all night or for a length of time until they cannot stand it anymore before calling 911 for help.

"We want you to call us as early as possible to prevent what they say in the business is 'time is muscle' and that's talking about heart muscle so we want to make sure that if you're having signs and symptoms of cardiac which is chest pain that won't go away upon rest, if you're having breathing difficulty, if you're having shortness of breath or issue where you're feeling dizzy when you stand up but it may get better when you sit down, those are all signs and symptoms that it could be something cardiac related and its better to be safe than it is to be sorry," Davenport said.

For the last several years, Greenville Fire-Rescue has embraced hands-only CPR, as dictated by the American Heart Association. Squads are also now using a strategy Davenport describes as "pit-crew CPR" when they arrive to a call for a cardiac arrest -- this means they no longer focus on loading and transporting patients as quickly as possible, but are placing an increased emphasis of providing effective CPR on the scene.

Davenport says the change has increased the likelihood of the patient surviving. Of course, Fire-Rescue officials cannot speak to what happens once a patient arrives at the hospital, but Davenport says that in January of 2018 the department saw a rate of 68% for 'return of spontaneous circulation' on the scene.

Davenport says that the strategy is effective for reviving a patient, but it means crews are spending more time at the scene of cardiac events which often has to be explained to scared families in those moments.

The American Heart Association lists common signs of a heart attack as:

-Chest discomfort and/or discomfort in other areas of the upper body like one or both arms, the back, neck jaw or stomach
-Shortness of breath
-Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

The most common symptom, of course, is chest pain. The American Heart Association notes that women are more likely than men to experience additional symptoms as well.

Don't wait to call 911 for help if you experience any of these symptoms.

You can find additional heart-health resources by visiting the American Heart Association