During a heart attack, every minute can mean more damage to the heart. Lieutenant Gregory Cvasa knew this from his years of first-aid training with the State Department of Corrections. So when the Linden man was hit with crushing chest pain two years ago, he knew to call 911 right away.
Fortunately, an ambulance came quickly and rushed Gregory to Barnabas Health Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBIMC), a Barnabas Health facility, where he received a life-saving procedure within just 12 minutes of his arrival.
"It was like a movie," recalls the married father of two grown children. "When I arrived in the ambulance, there were seven to nine people in scrubs waiting for me at the door. They grabbed my stretcher and took me straight to the cath lab."
There, Gregory received minimally invasive angioplasty: Doctors threaded a thin, flexible tube (catheter or "cath") through an artery in the groin, passing it up to the heart and opening the blocked artery. The physicians then placed a stent – a small, metal mesh tube – in the artery to help keep it open. Without such fast treatment, the lieutenant may have faced open-heart surgery – and higher risk of disability or death.
Gregory's rapid care was enabled by NBIMC's "Code STEMI" protocol, which requires all heart-attack patients with specific ECG findings to receive treatment within the first 90 minutes of an attack. That can mean bypassing the emergency department and going straight to the cath lab, as Gregory did.
STEMI, the deadliest form of heart attack, stands for ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction. This sudden and prolonged blockage of the heart's blood supply requires swift action by a team of medical professionals.
In Gregory's case, the ambulance squad took the first critical steps, conducting heart tests and transmitting the results electronically to the hospital, which enabled doctors to diagnose the STEMI while Gregory was en route.
"Everything seemed to fall into place; I couldn't have asked for anything better," says Gregory, who oversees continuing training for all Department of Corrections employees.
The following day, he opted to have a second angioplasty – on a different artery, which was 90 percent blocked. "I didn't see any reason to wait," notes the public servant.
Within a month, Gregory was back at work. The fitness buff soon restarted his exercise routine, and still visits the gym before work every day. In his free time, he enjoys traveling with his wife and spending time with his family.
"I feel like I can take on the world, like I did before," says the law enforcement official, now 62. "I have to remind myself of how old I am; I still think I'm in my 20s!"
Gregory continues to see the cardiologist who treated him at NBIMC, and remains grateful to the entire team.
"I can't speak highly enough about them. I'm thankful every day for the doctors and nurses who saved my life."
For information about Barnabas Health Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, visit barnabashealth.org/heartcenters.
About Barnabas Health Heart Centers – Life is Better Heart Healthy
From our local cardiologists to our world-class transplant, valve and surgical programs, Barnabas Health has built New Jersey's largest and most comprehensive cardiac care network. But we also offer prevention and wellness programs designed to strengthen and protect those with healthy hearts. All with the hope that they'll never need our extraordinary care in the first place. For more information about the Barnabas Health Heart Centers, visit barnabashealth.org/heartcenters.