What happens when you have a medical crisis more than 1,000 miles from home, in the parking lot of a convenience store in northern Lancaster County?
Divine intervention, if you ask Doreen and Norm Greczyn.
On June 10, the morning of their 50th wedding anniversary, the Greczyns were traveling from their home in Leavenworth, Kansas, to New York state, to attend a ceremony for one of their daughters, who was accepting command of a U.S. Army Reserve medical support battalion.
As they drove along the Pennsylvania Turnpike through Lancaster County, Doreen, 72, told her husband he needed to pull off the highway.
“My teeth were hurting,” says the retired elementary school teacher, who thought maybe it could be a sign of heart issues, even though she is active and feels healthy. “I said I need to stop and get some aspirin, just as a precaution.”
They pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store in Adamstown. Doreen passed out, while sitting in the car.
Norm, 71, a retired U.S. Army colonel, ran into the store and told the clerk, “I think my wife is having a heart attack!” He raced back to his wife’s side and was about to pull her out of the car so he could administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation when he felt a tap on his back.
It was emergency medical technicians from the Reamstown Fire Company, No. 1, who had quickly responded to the store clerk’s 911 call. They got Doreen into an ambulance and started an EKG, alerting WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital’s emergency department that they were on their way with a possible heart attack patient.
“We had never been to this town before,” says Doreen, who had revived at this point. “We had no idea where we were going.”
The EMTs told Norm to just drive straight up the road for six miles, where he would find the hospital. Then they took off, with the lights flashing and sirens blaring and Doreen in their care.
At the hospital, the STEMI team was alerted. A heart attack with a completely blocked coronary artery is called a STEMI, which stands for ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction. WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital’s STEMI team includes an interventional cardiologist, a nurse and two cardiac catheterization lab technicians, who assemble and can be in the emergency department within a minute or two, says Dr. Julian Esteban, WellSpan cardiologist and medical director of the cath lab at the hospital.
“There is a saying that time is muscle,” the cardiologist notes. “The earlier we can take care of these patients, the less heart damage they will have. That’s why the alert from the EMTs to the emergency department triggers the STEMI team.”
Tests showed that Doreen had a complete blockage in the left arterial descending artery of her heart, nicknamed the “widow maker,” or, in her case, “the widower maker.”
“It’s called that because it’s the biggest artery in the heart,” says Dr. Esteban. “If you have a problem in the biggest artery then you have a big problem.”
Within minutes, the STEMI team opened the blockage and placed a stent, a tiny tube that helps keep the artery open. About a half-hour after she was wheeled into the hospital’s cath lab, Norm saw his wife being wheeled to the intensive care unit, where she stayed for a few days of follow-up care before she was discharged.
The Greczyns donated $1,000 to the WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital Foundation in gratitude for the care Doreen received.
“The thing that’s amazing is that we could have stopped at any exit,” Doreen says. “It was divine intervention that we stopped there, so close to the hospital.”
Norm says, “I am retired military and a veteran of Desert Storm and so I have seen great teams in operation during periods of high stress. The ER team, the staff in cardiology, and the ICU staff in Ephrata rank right up there among the best. Because of your hospital, I got the best anniversary present ever – my wife’s life.”
Learn more about WellSpan’s heart and vascular services.