Mission: Lifeline Project Gives Hope to Heart Attack Patients in South Dakota


Three years ago, a historic $8.4 million dollar gift from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to the American Heart Association began the process to improve the system of care for heart attack patients in South Dakota. The Mission: Lifeline program has changed the landscape of cardiac care in the state, which is now beating national statistics for treatment of acute heart attack patients.

The grant was a three-year gift aimed at changing the landscape of cardiac care in the state. With 750,000 residents spread over 76,000 square miles in 66 counties, South Dakota faces unique challenges to identify and transport heart attack patients to one of six hospitals capable of performing PCI procedures. Mission: Lifeline sought to unify the state and establish standards of care to ensure that where a heart attack patient lives does not determine IF they survive.

“We are one of the first rural states in our country that have been so affected by the generous gift from the Helmsley Charitable Trust,” said Dr. Tom Stys, an interventional cardiologist at Sanford Health and a member of the American Heart Association Midwest Affiliate Board of Directors. “The gift enabled us to create one of the most comprehensive systems of care for acute heart attack patients in the country.”

 Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans have a type of heart attack known as an ST-elevated myocardial infarction, or STEMI, in which blood flow is completely blocked to a portion of the heart. Unless the blockage is eliminated quickly, the patient’s health and life are at serious risk. Currently, approximately two-thirds of STEMI patients fail to receive the best available treatments to restore blood flow. Mission: Lifeline seeks to save lives by closing the gaps that separate STEMI patients from timely access to appropriate treatments. Mission: Lifeline is focused on improving the system of care for patients who suffer from a STEMI each year; however, enhancements of the system will ultimately improve care for all heart attack patients.

At the time of the grant award, South Dakota was in the Class 5 category for STEMI death rates, giving it one of the highest STEMI death rates in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Today statistics show that South Dakota is beating national benchmarks in cardiac care in several categories, including door-to-balloon times, first medical contact to balloon times, and number of transmissions of 12-lead ECGs from EMS agencies in the field.

“South Dakota has become a model system for rural states across the nation,” said Gary Myers, Director Mission: Lifeline South Dakota for the American Heart Association. “This is really a new standard of rural care for heart attack patients and it is very exciting that in three years South Dakota has gone from leading the country in heart attack death rates to leading the way in heart attack care.”

The grant funded the critical elements of an optimal STEMI system of care: assistance to every ambulance service in the state in acquiring 12-lead ECG equipment and comprehensive 12-lead ECG training, transmission and receiving equipment for STEMI-referring and receiving hospitals, a system-wide data tool for quality measurement and improvement, ongoing medical provider training and education, development of STEMI protocols for EMS and hospital personnel, regional plans for rapid transport and/or transfer of patients, and an aggressive public education campaign on heart attack signs and symptoms and the need to activate the 9-1-1 system.

The American Heart Association has released a video which recaps the Mission: Lifeline program’s goals, progress and successes, celebrates the initial accomplishments of the three year grant and looks forward toward the long-term sustainability of the Mission: Lifeline program. The video can be found online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrY6J9EkSgg&feature=youtu.be

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