Clot-busting drugs can save heart attack victims' lives

June 30, 2011 3:07:49 PM PDT
It's a treatment that could save the lives of thousands of people having a heart attack.

According to the American Heart Association and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, every 34 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack. Almost half of them will die. How quickly you're treated makes a big difference in whether or not you'll survive. Now, an innovative way to treat heart attack patients means they're not only surviving but thriving.

Six years ago, architect John Cryer nearly died.

"4:30 in the morning i woke up having a heart attack," he said.

But he was in the right city at the right time. On his way to the hospital, John got a clot-busting drug in the ambulance.

"The fact that I'm standing here today, I would contribute a lot to it," he added.

Dr. James McCarthy at UT Health Science Center in Houston says that drug bought John 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," Dr. 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 says their study shows giving the drug in the field saves lives.

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

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

"Your job 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," she said.

Patients who get the drug are also 50% 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," said Dr. Smalling.

John knows his outcome could have been much worse.

"I'm very lucky?very lucky."

Doctors hope to test this treatment in a larger phase three study in the near future. Until then, they say the most important thing you can do to save yourself and your heart is to call 911 immediately if you're having chest pain or if you think you're having a heart attack. Earlier treatment usually translates to a much better outcome.