Education is Focus for Chest Pain Center

Diana Sullivan (left), director of the NorthBay Heart & Vascular Center service line, and Mary Hernandez, clinical practice manager for NorthBay’s Emergency and Trauma Services, have teamed up to educate the public about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

Now that NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield is the preferred destination for patients suffering heart attacks in Solano County, Mary Hernandez, R.N., and Diana Sullivan, P.h.D., want to get the message out to the community. But that is only part of their mission.

The women, affiliated with NorthBay Medical Center’s Chest Pain Center, are on a mission to educate the community about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, and what to do if you or someone you’re around is suffering from those symptoms.

To put it simply: Dial 9-1-1.

“There’s nothing better you can do than call an ambulance, and get everything in motion,” explains Diana Sullivan, director of the NorthBay Heart & Vascular Center. “The ambulance crews can do a number of things to help you if you’re in crisis. Just having a friend or spouse drive you won’t do the trick. They can’t drive and perform CPR at the same time.”

In fact, paramedics can administrator a 12-lead EKG, administer nitroglycerine, give you aspirin, morphine, oxygen or CPR.

People have to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. And then they have to be willing to call 9-1-1.

—Mary Hernandez, R.N.

That’s the lesson in a short video that has been posted on, which features a NorthBay Healthcare employee who had a close call.

Sylvia Spanos, a Vacaville resident, said her family has a history of heart disease and high blood pressure. “So when I felt light-headed, dizzy and nauseous, I didn’t waste any time. I dialed 9-1-1.”

Sylvia recounts in the video how quickly the crew responded, made her comfortable, and loaded her on the ambulance.

She was lucky, she says. It wasn’t a heart attack. But if she ever experiences the symptoms again, she won’t hesitate.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry, and it’s far better to have an ambulance crew respond to your needs. I have no doubt I never would have received such fine medical care so quickly if I hadn’t dialed 9-1-1.”

Mary and Diana are using Sylvia’s message to reach out. They are taking their message on the road, speaking to service clubs, community groups and senior home communities, hoping to spread the message that time is muscle, and that NorthBay is just an ambulance ride away if they need help. (To schedule a presentation, call 646-3293.)

NorthBay Medical Center launched its Heart & Vascular Center in 2009, and several months later became an official Chest Pain Center. It’s designation as a STEMI Receiving Center means that it can receive the most serious cardiac cases. STEMI is a medical term, which stands for ST segment elevation myocardial infarction.

During a STEMI, one or more of the arteries that nourish the heart muscle is completely blocked by a blood clot and, as a result, the heart muscle being supplied by the affected artery begins to die.

As a heart attack center, NorthBay’s emergency department will be able to quickly deploy specially trained teams of nurses, emergency physicians and cardiologists to clear the blocked artery before the damage to the heart muscle is irreversible. A team of cardiac surgeons is on call 24/7 to conduct emergency open-heart surgery if it is needed.

“First things first,” says Mary, who is also the clinical practice manager for Emergency and Trauma Services. “People have to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. And then they have to be willing to call 9-1-1. Don’t drive yourself—EMS providers know exactly what to do and how to help you.”

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