EMT saves life of heart attack victim

Laura Sluss, center, of Strasburg, holds her 12-15 lead electrocardiogram strip, with Warren County firefighter/Medic Shawn Garber outside her home near Waterlick this week. Sluss suffered from a widowmaker heart attack last month and Garber, a member of the career staff from North Warren Fire Department, and Warren County firefighter/ EMTs Tim Mawyer, left, and Andrew Levdahl, right, of Rivermonth Fire Department, responded. Their quick response and expertise were credited with saving Sluss' life. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – A local resident said she owes her life to a fire medic after suffering from an unexpected heart attack in March while exercising.

Laura Sluss, 57, of Strasburg, said at about noon on March 28 she started feeling chest pains after walking on her treadmill. She got off and called 911. A few weeks prior, she said she had read an article stating that you should take a full-size aspirin if you believe you are having a heart attack, so she did that about 10 minutes before help arrived.

Three fire stations were called, with Station 2 Rivermont and Station 10 North Warren responding to the call to her address. She said she was placed in Station 10’s Advanced Life Support ambulance with the best high tech equipment and drug intervention available in Warren County.

Fire Medic Shawn Graber and EMT Brandon Halsall hooked Sluss up to an EKG, which takes a picture of the heart, and began an IV. With the technology onboard, all test results were sent in real time to the doctor through WiFi. She was transported to Winchester Medical Center for care.

Tim Mawyer and Andrew Levdahl from Station 2 stayed behind at Sluss’s home to care for her special needs son until her husband was able to make it home.

Andrew Levdahl, of Rivermonth Fire Department, carries the Lifepack heart monitor defibrillator on his shoulder. Warren County Fire and Rescue wants to update the 14-year-old machine and several others that are up to 2-20 years old. A new unit costs $35,000 and to update equipment for the entire county would cost roughly $500,000. Rich Cooley/Daily

Graber stayed at the hospital after transport to inform the hospital staff of her serious condition. A blood test later showed her enzymes rising, indicating a heart attack. A catheter heart surgery was performed the following day and doctors found an artery that was completely blocked. Her cardiologist put in a stent to open up the artery.

Sluss said she spent two nights at the hospital before being released and has follow-up and cardiac rehabilitation appointments, but added that she feels better after the surgery.

“I feel like a million bucks,” she said. “I feel better now than I did before.”

She said this has been her only major health issue. She was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism a few month ago but has managed well with medication.

She added that she had subtle signs weeks before her heart attack hit. She said she got fatigued, couldn’t get a deep breath and her left foot swelled up.

Graber added that where her artery was blocked is known as the “widow maker” because it is fatal a majority of the time. He said Sluss is lucky to be alive.

“It’s nice to see a positive outcome,” he said. “Most times you don’t have the opportunity to walk around and have a full recovery.”

“As you get older, you eat things that have fat in them and that builds up plaque in your arteries and at anytime, you can’t control this, at anytime that plaque can bust loose and attach to an artery,” he added.

Sluss said she works out throughout the week and Graber added that being in good shape helps prevent and minimize the risk of heart attacks, but early identification is key.

“She identified it right away and as soon as she identified it she acted upon it,” he said.
Graber said you start to have injury, which is as soon as it happens. Next comes ischemia, which is when part of the area is damaged and will not come back. Finally comes infarction, which is when the total area receiving the blood flow dies and the person never gets it back.

“If you are able to stop it at the injury phase, which is what we were able to do,” he said, “you can likely get full recovery.”

He said the important thing to remember is to recognize it, call early and take action.

Graber said he does the best he can with the equipment and medication on the ambulance, but the equipment is aging.

He added that Warren County Fire and Rescue is in desperate need of upgrading their equipment in their ambulances, with some of their equipment at 20 years old.

He said they are “severely needing technology upgrade.”

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com