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When Minutes Matter

shauna Farnell

Last year Wally Posner held his 20-year-old daughter Danielle as she died in his arms during a snowboarding lesson at Beaver Creek. Fortunately Ski Patrol recognized a fairly rare scenario: a 20-year-old going into cardiac arrest and they revived her through CPR and defibrillation. Just before the incident Danielle had seemed perfectly healthy as the Illinois family enjoyed their ski vacation.

More often older people like Dave Bentley experience cardiac emergencies. Bentley felt pain in his chest three years ago at the end of an energetic ski day. At first the 65-year-old Cordillera resident attributed the pain to something he had eaten during lunch.

“It was a ski-with-the-guys day — strong all-out. We had a late lunch and were halfway down Bear Tree when all of a sudden I started to get a sharp pressing pain high in my chest” Bentley recalls. “There was no throbbing no tingling of the arm. I thought it was some sort of really bad indigestion.”
By the time Bentley reached the bottom of the mountain his pain was so intense it was making him sweat. His ski buddy recognized Bentley's symptoms as a possible heart attack.

In both Posner's and Bentley's life-threatening emergencies they were airlifted to Denver where cardiologist Dr. Jerry Greenberg awaited. “Dr. Greenberg was out to meet the helicopter and got me connected to the gurney. He literally jogged into the Cath Lab to get me going. It was that critical” Bentley says.

Bentley was undergoing a type of heart artery blockage ominously dubbed by medical experts as “The Widow Maker.” Access to a Cardiac Catheterization and Electrophysiology Lab (Cath & EP Lab) was critical and Dr. Greenberg's expertise and quick response were life-saving. He inserted a stent to unblock the artery and Bentley was able to walk away.

But had circumstances been different — had Bentley been higher on the mountain had the weather caused a delayed helicopter flight had his friend not recognized the symptoms — Bentley's story could have turned out differently. And had Ski Patrol not recognized Danielle's symptoms intervened to revive her and help transport her to Denver she wouldn't be spending a semester abroad this year.

That's why Vail's new state-of-the-art Cath & EP Lab which opened in February 2015 is critical to saving lives. Vail Valley Medical Center has also brought Dr. Jerry Greenberg up to Vail full-time as well as his long-time colleague Dr. Nelson Prager to lead the hospital's Cardiology Institute and Cath & EP Lab. Dr. Greenberg specializes in interventional cardiology and Dr. Prager's specialty areas include electrophysiology heart rhythm disturbances and coronary artery disease.

Wally Posner Danielle's father can't shake the memory of that December day when his daughter ended up with a rupture in her left artery due to a rare condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection. He faced eight hours of confusion and fear on the way to Denver traveling in strong winds from Vail by ambulance and then from Idaho Springs by car after Danielle was flown off by helicopter.

“If the lab here was in operation at that time she would have gone directly to VVMC for immediate diagnosis and treatment rather than being helicoptered to Denver” Dr. Greenberg says. “It's definitely stressful to watch your daughter being loaded into a helicopter and whisked away.”
Although it would have spared Wally Posner hours of anguish to have the Vail Cath & EP Lab in operation when his daughter went into cardiac arrest he is thrilled that other lives will be saved as a result of the lab.

“The difference of having a facility that could have helped my daughter right in Vail would have been night and day” Posner says. “What took eight hours would have been cut into two or three hours. Minimizing that five hours of all the questions — the why what how — would have been cut. What they're doing with the Cath & EP Lab is fantastic ... if the lab stops one person or family experienced it's great.”

Heart attacks on the mountain are not uncommon and in winter weather conditions have presented major obstacles in travel. Not every victim's experience has ended as happily as Bentley and Posner's which is why VVMC decided to open its Cath & EP Lab and bring Denver experts to the mountains.

"We are pleased to offer our community and visitors the life-saving technology of a Cath Lab as well as the expert team of our Cardiology Institute” explains VVMC President and CEO Doris Kirchner. “Especially as Vail's aging population requires greater healthcare support and expanded services the hospital is responding to accommodate this need."

Vail's new Cath & EP Lab provides immediate treatment for patients having heart attacks and other emergencies. With the two full-time cardiologists patients can stay in Vail for everything from pacemaker implants to angiograms angioplasty catheter ablation and stents. The Cath & EP Lab will continue to expand in order to be staffed 24-7 but until then some procedures will still need to performed in Denver such as cardiovascular surgery.

“When (most) folks come into Vail Valley Medical Center for treatment they're going to be cared for right here” Dr. Greenberg says. “It's not an automatic trip to Denver.” Ultimately this will lead to more happy endings to life-threatening incidents.

“I think I had about a three-hour survival window” Bentley says. “Transit time to Denver is in the best of circumstances about an hour. Having a Cath & EP Lab in town would have greatly expanded my window of opportunity. Bringing this technology to Vail is an enormous life-saver."

For more information
Cardiology Institute |  | (970) 476-1110
Dr. Jerry Greenberg & Dr. Nelson Prager Cardiology Institue