EMTs use EKGs sized down for portability

Lawton_Ambulance workers have a new tool to help save lives.  The machine helps detect heart problems - even heart attacks - so that they can begin treatment before the patient even arrives at the hospital.  It's a 12-Lead Electrocardiogram (EKG).  EKGs have been used for years in hospitals to monitor heart activity.  But, what once only came in large sizes - now comes in a smaller size, too.

The EKG is about the size of a duffel bag, and light enough for a paramedic to carry it with one hand.  "This is by far the greatest advancement in pre-hospital care in 20 years," said Comanche County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) Ambulance Manager Kenneth Pack.  "Now a doctor can actually diagnose a patient that's having a heart attack without actually, physically, seeing or touching the patient."

Ambulances have been equipped with heart monitors for years, to monitor patients' pulse, heart rate, and blood pressure.  "Before we had life packs, that didn't have the 12-lead, they were just able to get one picture of the heart," said CCMH Paramedic Brad Mertens.  "Then from there, we could kind of guesstimate if they were having a heart attack."

But, heart problems aren't something anyone should have to guess about.  The portable EKG has 12-leads.  The leads are sensors that adhere to a patient's chest, abdomen, upper arms, and back.  The sensors monitor different parts of the chest and send electrical signals to the monitor.  "Based on how those waves come out on the monitor, it tells if the heart is ascemic, lacking of oxygen, or having an infarction, to let you know that part of the heart is dying," Mertens said.

Paramedics then use their cell phones to immediately send a fax of the machine's report to the hospital, where a physician can review it while the ambulance is en route.  CCMH paramedics have had the machines less than three months, but they say the machines are already paying off.  "The ER doctor had the EKG in his hands before we had the lady in the ambulance," said CCMH Paramedic Anthony Neal.  "He was able to activate the cath (catheterization) lab, have them called in, and they were already in and set up [when we arrived].  So the lady went straight through the ER and went straight into the cath lab."

Now, medics realize how long the process would have taken had they not had the portable EKG.  They saved two hours - critical time when someone's life is on the line.