If you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, the American Heart Association (AHA) and WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital have a loud and clear message: Call 911. Now.

The American Heart Association, a cardiac disease-focused nonprofit, has created a public awareness campaign in partnership with health systems across the country to reinforce this message. The initiative, called “Don’t Die of Doubt,” is a direct response to an alarming drop in emergency room visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention morbidity and mortality weekly report published in June found that emergency room visits in April were down 42 percent compared to the same period last year.

That’s because some people experiencing a medical emergency have been reluctant to go the ER for fear of exposing themselves to COVID-19 or burdening overworked medical staff.

“Hospitals are still the safest place to be during a medical emergency,” Stephanie Andreozzi, senior director of clinical services at WellSpan Good Samaritan, said in a press release.

Don’t Die of Doubt, Andreozzi said, “emphasizes that the best chance to survive an acute event, like a heart attack or stroke, is to call 911 and get an ambulance to the hospital where they’re fully prepared to treat you safely.”

The precipitous drop in national ER visits is a big concern, Andreozzi told LebTown.

Wellspan has been tracking stroke and heart attack patients in the emergency room and those who die at home, she said. They’ve noticed costly delays, where those with heart attack symptoms, for example, waited before getting medical help.

“We really want people to know you absolutely need to call 911” and get to the hospital quickly, Andreozzi said.

AHA lists these heart attack symptoms:

  • Chest discomfort that can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Other signs may include a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

For stroke symptoms, think F.A.S.T.:

  • Face numb or drooping on one side
  • Arm weakness.
  • Slurred speech, difficulty speaking
  • Time to call 911

As the campaign’s website notes, “any of these symptoms required emergency care in the past. They still require emergency care now.” COVID-19 hasn’t changed that.

The best outcomes for a patient are when medical assistance is there within the first 90 minutes, Andreozzi said.

The sayings are “time is brain” for a stroke and “time is muscle” for a heart attack, she said. Every minute without treatment for a stroke costs 2 million brain cells, and delaying medical care for a heart attack risks greater muscle damage to the heart.

“You can prevent loss with very prompt treatment,” Andreozzi said.

Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.

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Paula Wolf worked for 31 years as a general assignment reporter, sports columnist, and editorial writer for LNP Media. A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, she is a lifetime resident of Lancaster County.


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