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Care team’s speed and teamwork create life-saving outcome for Westfields patient

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When time makes the difference between life and death, how does a care team focus and shave off minutes to save a patient’s life?

The Emergency Department staff at Westfields, a Life Link helicopter medical crew and the Regions cardiothoracic surgery team could give lessons. These teams’ speed, efficiency and synchronized partnership ensured that a patient’s aortic dissection (a tear in the inner layer of the large blood vessel branching off the heart) was not going to end his life that day.

In October, 58-year-old Lon Gamble was working in his garage in Western Wisconsin when he heard a “swoosh” in his ear, felt his arm and leg go numb and felt a raging pain go through his chest. He called a friend, who picked him up and drove him to Westfields ED. That’s when Marty Richards, MD, Chief of Emergency Medicine for HealthPartners in the St. Croix Valley, set to work.

Richards used a bedside ultrasound machine to help determine diagnosis. (On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst: This case was a 10, said Richards.) Calls were quickly made to assemble the Regions cardiothoracic surgical team and the Life Link medical helicopter. With the Life Link team reporting they would touch down in 10 minutes, the Westfields ED staff had mere minutes to get a CT scan and send it to Regions cardiovascular surgeon Douglas Baldwin, MD to prepare for surgery. And there were mere minutes to inform the flight medical crew what was needed to keep Gamble stable and alive en route.

From Gamble’s first symptoms in his home around 6:10 a.m. through arrival at Westfields ED at 6:30 a.m. to surgery at Regions beginning at 7:35 a.m. — the process was a study in efficiency and teamwork.

“From door to departure, the Westfields ED care team — in conjunction with the radiology department — was focused on diagnosing Mr. Gamble’s life-threatening problem, managing his symptoms, and preparing and updating the receiving care team at Regions to ensure his care was expedited upon arrival there,” said Richards. “Due to the quick turnaround in radiology, no time was lost in getting Mr. Gamble transferred, and he was able to proceed directly to the operating room on arrival at Regions.”

“I remember the helicopter landing at Regions, then taking me out. I remember seeing the sunrise, and I really hoped it wasn’t going to be my last one.”

Gamble got his wish.

Two days after the six-hour surgery, Gamble was sitting up in bed. He eventually requested a meeting with Dr. Richards and team, to thank him for saving his life. That meeting happened at Westfields Dec. 17 — just two days after his 59th birthday.

Grateful patient Lon Gamble met with – and thanked – the Westfields care team who saved his life. From left: Steve Massey, CEO at Westfields; Amy Koepke, NP; Marty Richards, MD; Hannah Lange, RN; patient Lon Gamble; Kari Becker, RN; Nancy Buchman, imaging technologist; and Tom Peterson, RN.