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Cloquet resident grateful for lifesaving heart care from Essentia Health

Carla Holmes. Submitted / Essentia Health

By Anthony Matt

One person dies every 33 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1 in 5 deaths were related to heart disease in 2021.

In April 2023, 51-year-old Cloquet resident Carla Holmes told her fiancé Jason Londgren she thought she was having a heart attack after experiencing severe back pain that wouldn’t go away. Holmes knew something was wrong and asked what the symptoms of a heart attack were.

“I’m so thankful he was home because if he wasn’t I might not be here,” said Holmes.

Londgren didn’t hesitate. He knew they needed to get to the hospital. Holmes, who lost consciousness before she could receive lifesaving care, was rushed to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center. Fortunately, the ST-elevation myocardial infarction care team at St. Mary’s was waiting for her. Led by Dr. Nicole Worden, an interventional cardiologist, Holmes immediately had three stents put in to open up clogged arteries, with a fourth added later.

A STEMI is the most severe type of heart attack and has a significant risk of serious complications and death. It is caused by the abrupt closure of a major coronary artery. Holmes’ heart attack was so severe that she was placed on a ventilator and didn’t regain consciousness until May 2, about five days later.

“The care saved my life,” said Holmes. “I wouldn’t be here without Essentia.”

“We have really built a system that provides exceptional care to those experiencing this life-threatening emergency,” said Dr. Worden. “We know people do better with prompt care, so we actively measure our care practices to make sure we are pushing ourselves to be better. From my perspective, I really enjoy doing these procedures more than any other because I know what I do matters to the patient. For some patients the procedure is the reason they survive their heart attack.”

After a couple days of recovery, Holmes was released from the hospital on May 4.

“Dr. Worden was wonderful, and she was so caring,” said Holmes. “I could have easily died that day, and she was genuinely thrilled that I survived.”

“Carla’s excellent outcome is a direct result of the talented team that came together to provide care for her,” said Dr. Worden. “We provide first-class care for our STEMI patients because we have built this excellent team over time, with education, outreach and dedication.”

Knowing when to seek heart care

You should see your primary care physician if you have a family history of heart disease or if you experience dizzy spells, shortness of breath or chest pain.

Your doctor may refer you to a heart specialist for further testing and treatment. 

General risk factors include:

· Chest pain, pressure, burning, aching or tightness — it may come and go.

· A family history of cardiovascular disease.

· High blood pressure.

· Overweight or obese.

· Sedentary lifestyle.

· Using tobacco products.

· Metabolic disease, diabetes or other illnesses.

· Taking certain birth control pills, a history of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes or having a low-birth-weight baby.

Be aware of the following symptoms:

Some heart attack symptoms can be different between men and women. Why does it matter? Women may be less likely to seek immediate medical care, which can cause more damage to the heart.

· Men feel pain and numbness in the left arm or side of the chest, but in women, these symptoms may appear on the right side.

· Women may feel completely exhausted, drained, dizzy or nauseous.

· Women may feel upper back pain that travels up into their jaw.

· Women may think their stomach pain is the flu, heartburn or an ulcer.

· Feeling of fullness.

· Pain that travels down one or both arms.

· Excessive fatigue or weakness.

· Anxiety.

In some instances, the signs and symptoms are different. The patient may not complain about pain or pressure in the chest. Be alert for the following:

· A sharp or “knife-like” pain that occurs with coughing or breathing.

· Pain that spreads above the jawbone or into the lower body.

· Difficult or labored breathing.

For the last 10 years, St. Mary’s has been honored with the Platinum Award for heart attack care. Awarded by the American College of Cardiology, it’s one of the highest cardiac honors a health system can achieve, recognizing positive patient outcomes, performance and quality of care.