A Reflection on Gratitude and AHA in Montana


Guest Blogger: Amanda Cahill, Montana Government Relations Director

It’s been more than 10 years since I got the news that my dad, Tom, had had a heart attack.  I was 20 years old, an undergraduate student at University of Montana and in complete shock.  I knew he hadn’t been feeling great, but a heart attack at 53 years old, it couldn’t be possible.  One quadruple bypass and a devastating diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure later, my dad was eventually sent home.  The road since the surgery has not been easy, quite the opposite actually, but my dad is still here and for that I am grateful.

You see, my dad is one of those typical tough Montana guys.  He waited almost 3 hours before even telling his wife that he was having chest pain.  He didn’t want to burden anyone.  He’s a strong guy, a quality he instilled in me from an early age- the picture is from 1993, dad insisted that I drive that Jeep Hot Wheel, the pink Barbie Corvette was not an option.

Unfortunately, dad’s stubbornness was not in his best interest on the day of his heart attack.  What he didn’t know was that every minute he spent delaying his care, his heart muscle was dying.  To make matters worse, dad lives in a somewhat remote area of Montana, by the time the volunteer ambulance crew came, took him to a clinic with little expertise in heart attacks, and eventually to a larger hospital, a lot of his heart was damaged.  Today only 25% of his heart functions.  Luckily, that 25% is enough for him to live life with grace, happiness, and enough energy to walk me down the aisle last August. 

I tell you the story of my dad Tom because it is a perfect example of why I do what I do for the AHA and why that work is so critical in Montana.  Over the last 10 months, the AHA has dedicated several new staff members and millions of dollars to improve our cardiac care system in Montana.  We are doing this work through a project called Mission: Lifeline Montana. The aim of Mission: Lifeline is to equip ambulances and hospitals across the state with up-to-date equipment and increased communication skills in order to create better outcomes for people like my dad. 

Our family was lucky, we lived close enough to a large hospital that dad was saved in time.  This is not the case for hundreds of Montana families every year.  In Montana, your chances of receiving quality, guideline driven care during a heart attack are about 30%.  This means that people are dying unnecessarily and having poorer outcomes because of lack of a unified system of cardiac care across the state.  Mission: Lifeline Montana is going to improve this system. 

Our task force of Montana physicians, nurses, paramedics, and other medical professionals have been working diligently for the past 8 months to provide Montana with new guidelines to streamline care.  Additionally, we have awarded more than $875,000 to ambulance services and more than $864,000 to Montana hospitals to update their cardiac monitoring systems.  We will also be launching a public media campaign reminding people not to wait to call 9-1-1 when experiencing any signs and symptoms of a heart attack.  This is just the beginning of our work and I am grateful to be a part of an organization that is doing so much for Montanans.  To learn more about this life saving project go to www.heart.org/missionlifelinemontana

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