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Clot-busting drug may save heart-attack patients

May 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Every 34 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack, and how quickly you're treated can make all the difference. An innovative way to treat heart attack patients - using a clot-busting drug - could mean not just surviving, but thriving.

Six years ago, architect John Cryer nearly died after waking up to a heart attack. But he was in the right city at the right time, and on his way to the hospital, he got a clot-busting drug in the ambulance.

"The fact that I'm standing here today, I'm going to contribute a lot to it," Cryer said.

Dr. James McCarthy at University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston said the drug bought Cryer precious time.

"Someone who calls 911 immediately and gets their artery opened up within the first 60 minutes, their likelihood of dying is very, very small," McCarthy said.

The average person waits 90 minutes to call for help. Then it's another 90 minutes or more by the time doctors can open their arteries. Dr. Richard Smalling said their study shows giving the drug in the field saves lives.

"Eighty percent of the patients that get here after that first dose of drugs already have opened arteries. The heart attacks have been stopped not by the doctors, but by the paramedics," Smalling said.

Results show patients who receive the drug have a 50-percent reduction in heart attack size. Paramedic Bonnie Richter has seen the benefits firsthand.

"As a paramedic, you want to get them to the hospital, hopefully, better than the condition you found them in, and this definitely gives you that opportunity," Richter said.

Patients who get the drug are also 50-percent less likely to die.

"I mean, you talk about saving one jumbo jet full of people every other day, that's a big difference in death from heart attacks," Smalling said.

Cryer knows his outcome could have been much worse and says he considers himself "very lucky."

Doctors hope to test this treatment in a larger phase-three study in the near future. Until then, if you feel chest pain or think you're having a heart attack, always call 911. Earlier treatment usually means a much better outcome.

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