27 Minutes That Saved a Life

Posted on May 9, 2012

Dr. John Pescetti never imagined that his life might hinge on 27 minutes, yet that’s exactly what he faced after arriving by ambulance at the Oakland campus of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center with severe chest pain that was Dr. John Pescetti, pediatrician at La Clínica de La Raza in Oakland, who received life-saving treatment at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center for his heart attacksoon a confirmed heart attack.

Dr. Pescetti, a Johns Hopkins-trained pediatrician accustomed to being on the clinical side of the doctor-patient relationship, looks back on that day with gratitude.

“There was a team of people working very quickly to take care of me. I fit into everything seamlessly. It was amazing,” he says. “They gave me a second chance at life—a chance to go on and do the thing I love most: taking care of my patients.”

Unexpected chest pain

Dr. Pescetti’s love for patient care began long before he became a doctor at age 35. As a nurse for seven years, he cared for some of the smallest patients in the pediatric intensive care unit at the Los Angeles Harbor-University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center. He found his calling in pediatrics.

Encouraged by a mentor to become a pediatrician, he applied to Johns Hopkins Medical School and was accepted a few months later. After he finished in 1990, he began his residency at Children’s Hospital in Oakland.

“As a resident, I was really impressed by the dedication of the La Clínica de La Raza doctors who came to Children’s. So I applied for a position and was hired in 1993. I speak Spanish and my wife is Mexican American; I am immersed in the culture. La Clínica was a great fit for me.”

“Families entrust the care of their children to me. Without La Clínica, many of them would not have access to quality health care. I have to do my absolute best for them.”

He was caring for his La Clínica patients in the Alta Bates Summit Nursery when he first felt chest pain on the morning of March 8. He thought it was indigestion so he took an antacid.

After rounding on his patients, he drove back to La Clínica, but, 45 minutes later, the pain was so intense he went down the hall to talk with family medicine physician Paul Bayard, M.D. The nurse practitioner and clinicians immediately recognized that he was having a heart attack and called an ambulance.

An EKG (electrocardiogram) showed that Dr. Pescetti was having a STEMI (ST segment elevation myocardial infarction)—a type of heart attack in which the coronary artery leading to the heart is blocked.

“My friends insisted that the ambulance driver take me to Alta Bates Summit and nowhere else because of their excellent cardiac care as one of the major STEMI centers in Alameda County” remembers Dr. Pescetti.

Instantaneous relief

“The minute he arrived at the Emergency Department, we knew we had to get him immediately to the Cath Lab to open up his artery and clear the clot,” says Eric Johnson, M.D., an interventional cardiologist. “Any delay and he would have likely suffered heart damage, or worse, from a lack of oxygen.”

Dr. Johnson and his team determined the exact location of the clot through a minimally invasive procedure that uses a special dye and X-rays to make detailed images of the coronary arteries.

“Dr. Pescetti’s left anterior descending artery was 99 percent blocked, just as we had suspected,” said Dr. Johnson. “So we immediately performed aspiration thrombectomy by inserting a very thin tube into the femoral artery in his thigh and guiding it to his heart to remove the clot.”

Dr. Johnson also quickly inserted a very small mesh tube—called a stent—with a balloon inside. By inflating the balloon, he was able to expand the stent to widen Dr. Pescetti’s narrowed artery and improve blood flow.

The relief was instantaneous.

“The pain from my heart attack was excruciating. But when they unblocked my artery, it was gone instantly. I felt an incredible sense of bliss,” adds Dr. Pescetti. Today, he remains very grateful for the life-saving care he received at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center from Dr. Johnson and the medical teams in the Emergency Department and Cardiac Catheter Laboratory.

“Their professionalism and compassion—the speed and accuracy of their life-saving techniques and technologies—made a world of difference. I will never be able to thank them adequately.”

Dr. Johnson and the Alta Bates Summit medical teams worked so quickly that the “door to balloon” (D2B) time for Dr. Pescetti—the interval spanning from entering the ED to unblocking the artery in the Cath Lab—was only 27 minutes, well below the D2B time of 90 minutes recommended by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. Lowering D2B times decreases the number of deaths and ensures better outcomes for heart attack survivors.

“The beauty of our minimally invasive procedures is that we have dramatically improved treatment outcomes for our heart attack patients,” explains Dr. Johnson. “The majority recover so quickly that they are discharged within a few days.”

Dr. Johnson went to visit Dr. Pescetti in his hospital room three hours after unblocking his artery.

“Although I’ve performed this procedure so many times with wonderful outcomes, I felt a little pressured because I knew that Dr. Pescetti’s patients were counting on his full recovery,” recalls Dr. Johnson. “One of the first things he said when I entered the room was ‘I’m ready to go back to work!’”

He was discharged three days later. Looking back on his experience, Dr. Pescetti feels a deeper appreciation for everyone in his life:

“I can’t say thank you enough to the medical teams at Alta Bates Summit who saved my life. They need to know the profound impact of the life-saving work they do. Every drop of their care and compassion ripples out and has an enormous effect somewhere else: The caring, kindness and compassion they extended to me not only affect my family, but touch the lives of the families of my patients, whom I can continue taking care of thanks to them.”

Brought to you by Alta Bates Summit Medical Center

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