MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When someone suffers a heart attack, the time it takes to treat them can make the difference between life and death.

The American Heart Association urges hospitals to have a quick “door to balloon rate.” That’s the time it takes to get a patient from the hospital doors to an operating room, where the blocked artery can be opened by inflating and deflating a tiny balloon.

Hospitals here in Minnesota are saving lives by cutting time.

Jim Martin was on the computer at his home in Stillwater last month when suddenly he began sweating and had to lay down.

“I felt this discomfort in my back,” Martin said. “I said something’s not right, I’ve got to go to the emergency room.”

His wife took him to Lakeview Hospital. Tests showed he was having a heart attack. An ambulance rushed him to Regions Hospital in St Paul.

“I remember the doctor saying if you’re not feeling good right now it’s just a matter of moments when you will be,” Martin said.

In fact, it took doctors just 17 minutes from the time Jim got into Regions Hospital to get blood flowing to his heart again, 90 minutes from when he arrived at Lakeview.

“We send out a page, the cardiologist comes in, cath lab team, everybody’s ready to go as soon as the patient hits the door,” Thomas Kottke, a consulting cardiologist with Health Partners Medical, said.

The American Heart Association has urged hospitals in recent years to get their “door-to-balloon” response rates below 90 minutes. At Regions, 97 percent of cases meet the recommendation.

“Our cardiac statistics are so good. We’re one of the two states in the country where heart disease is no longer the leading cause of death,” Kottke said.

Martin, 77, was released a day later with two stents in his heart. He thanks the hospital’s quick response time to getting him back up on his feet.

“How could you ever dream of that? You couldn’t. Just unbelievable,” Martin said.

The American College of Cardiology reports nearly all hospitals treat at least half of their patients for heart attacks in 61 minutes or less. The Mayo Clinic averages around 50 minutes.

Kate Raddatz

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