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Fast response can save a struggling heart

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Every year more than 700,000 people in the United States suffer a heart attack.

Many die before getting to the hospital, in part because they deny that the symptoms are coming from their hearts. The average person waits four hours before getting medical care. Once in the hospital, major centers like the Heart Hospital where I work treat the patient with an angioplasty with a delay of less than 90 minutes.

Every minute of delay once a heart attack begins means more heart muscle lost. If we get patients within an hour or two after the symptoms start, they can escape with no or little damage.

Project Heart Start
WHEN: June 22. Sessions start at 8 a.m., 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.
WHERE: In Albuquerque: UNM Johnson Center, South Gym, Central & Stanford In Rio Rancho: Meadowlark Senior Center, 4330 Meadowlark Lane SE
HOW MUCH: Free. Go to for other locations.

The characteristic symptoms of a heart attack are pressure, squeezing, aching or burning discomfort (or even indigestion) usually in the center of the chest that may radiate to the arms, neck or jaw or be principally in those locations. Often sweating, shortness of breath or profound fatigue can accompany the symptoms. Women in particular may have no pain at all but instead note new and sudden shortness of breath or profound fatigue.

Sudden cardiac arrest can also occur without a heart attack and happens 300,000 times a year in the U.S. SCA, regardless of the trigger, is usually due to a sudden rhythm disturbance called ventricular fibrillation that immediately stops the heart from pumping blood. The only treatment is immediate CPR and a shock to the heart with a defibrillator. Out of the 300,000 SCA in the U.S., fewer than 5 percent to 7 percent survive.

Project Heart Start is a program of the New Mexico Heart Institute Foundation and KOAT-TV dedicated to changing that miserable outlook. We are teaching every capable person in the state to save the life of a SCA victim and to recognize and get early treatment of a heart attack.

We also teach how to use the automated external defibrillator and how to save the life of a choking victim. During the 45-minute course, we teach the new CPR that requires only continuous chest compressions (no more mouth-to-mouth) after calling 911 and requesting an AED. This course, which is not a certification course, is free.

PHS is being presented in all seventh- and ninth-grade health classes in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho and in six other cities through a grant from the New Mexico Board of Nursing. The program has been initiated at Intel, Sandia National Labs, Central New Mexico Community College and the University of New Mexico.

You absolutely should know the element of PHS and you can come to Project Heart Start on June 22 to learn them in less than an hour.

Dr. Barry Ramo is a cardiologist with the New Mexico Heart Institute and medical editor for KOAT-TV. Email


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