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Life Saving Speed

“I had never felt pain like that before in my life,” remembers retired physician Brian Livermore.

At only 65, Dr. Livermore was in the fight for his life. The retiree was home alone on a Friday morning in August when he suffered a massive heart attack. After serving as a family medicine physician in Bemidji for more than 25 years, Dr. Livermore knew what was happening.

“I was swinging a pickaxe and started feeling some chest pain and shortness of breath,” remembers Dr. Livermore. “But it got worse not better after I had stopped. I knew that it wasn’t muscle pain. It was my heart.”

Thankfully Dr. Livermore’s wife Becky was pulling into the driveway when he started feeling that chest pain. The two quickly jumped into the car and raced to the emergency room.

“By the time I got to the hospital, I was gray as a ghost and sweating like a pig,” recounts Dr. Livermore. “I was not doing great.”

Upon arriving at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, the STEMI team went into action. STEMI stands for ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction. This is an extremely dangerous type of heart attack where a coronary artery becomes suddenly blocked and is unable to supply the heart with blood. The 24/7 cardiac team is just one piece of the new Heart & Vascular Center at Sanford Bemidji. This is the region’s only center of it’s kind with a cardiology clinic, cardiac catheterization lab, and preparatory and recovery areas for vascular and cardiac patients. So when people like Dr. Livermore are admitted, they can be treated on site instead of having to fly to another location costing them valuable time.

“I know that if they had to fly me out I wouldn’t have made it,” says Dr. Livermore.

Interventional cardiologists James Dewar, DO, and Jeffrey Watkins, MD, along with the rest of the STEMI team went onto action to save Dr. Livermore’s life.

“Dr. Livermore appeared to be in a state of shock and was exhibiting signs of confusion due to decreased blood flow to his brain,” says Dr. Dewar. “These symptoms are very worrisome and when not treated quickly can lead to very poor outcomes including death.”

Dr. Livermore’s main artery in the front of his heart was completely blocked with a clot. The STEMI team quickly rushed to put two stents in place to free the blockage. It was a record. From the time that Dr. Livermore entered the emergency room to the time he was in the cath lab, only 15 minutes had elapsed. And when time is everything, this was a big win for the STEMI team.

Dr. Livermore’s loss of muscle function was very minimal thanks in large part to the STEMI team. But because he knew the signs of a heart attack, he wasn’t wasting time wondering what was happening.

“The thing you have to ask yourself is, ‘Have I ever felt this kind of pain before?’” says Dr. Livermore. “Because the clock is ticking.”

Both doctors say that knowing the symptoms of a heart attack is key. What is challenging for both patients and physicians is how varying those symptoms can be. Typical things to watch for include chest discomfort which can range from pressure to tightness to severe pain to shortness of breath. A heart attack can also come with a feeling of fullness, nausea, profound sweating, a sense of impending doom, sudden onset fatigue, lightheadedness or dizziness. It is important to know these signs even if you don’t think you are at risk for a heart attack.

“My risk factors were very minimal,” says Dr. Livermore. “I walked three miles every day. I had no family history. The only thing against me was my age.”

Dr. Livermore explains that after many years of being a runner, his coronary arteries were very large. Plaque was building up but not enough to produce symptoms.

“When the plaque ruptured, I went from 0 to 60 like that,” recalls Dr. Livermore.

Now almost four months since his heart attack, Dr. Livermore is feeling better than ever. He is working out a little more and has added a weight program to his routine after graduating from cardiac rehab.

“I got to graduate early because they kept setting goals for me and I kept passing them,” laughs Dr. Livermore.

And although he is in good spirits, he knows how lucky he was back in August.

“I really thought I could die,” he remembers. “When you have a place like this, you don’t know the value of it until you need it.”

People live in Bemidji and the surrounding area to enjoy the quality of life that northern Minnesota offers. Having access to critical care services such as interventional cardiology and the other specialties offered at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center helps to preserve that quality of life.

Posted Date: December 2013