Kaiser Permanente member Christine Gardner may owe her life to fast action by KP nurses and techs who were following well-established life-saving protocols at the reception area of the KP Santa Clara emergency department. Essentially, Gardner’s heart stopped shortly after arriving, but she was resuscitated within minutes
“I’m just so grateful,” says Gardner, tears welling up in her eyes as she recovered in her hospital room. “Everyone here at Kaiser Permanente has been so great.”
Gardner remembers little of what happened moments after her brother, Michael, dropped her off at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Emergency Department entrance. She had been feeling “off” all day, with back pains and then chest pains she attributed to stress and anxiety, so she got her brother to drive her to the ED.
“He went to park the car and I walked inside. I think I remember a young man asking me how I felt,” Gardner says, her voice trailing off.
That young man was Emergency Department Tech Alberto Mata, who began a rapid check-in process that inevitably saved Gardner’s life.
“I greet each person who arrives at our front door and ask why they’re here. It’s part of our protocol,” says Mata, who is studying to become a Paramedic. “Gardner looked fine, but she complained of chest pains, so I moved her straight to the nurse.”
At the front desk, Kaiser Permanente Nurse Amy Murphy noted that Gardner looked fairly well but became suspicious when she saw in Gardner’s electronic medical record a history of possible heart issues. Murphy immediately ordered an emergency electrocardiogram.
“The team quickly placed her on a gurney for the test and she was hooked up to the machine,” says Murphy. “Within minutes, she coded.”
“Code” is the informal medical term used when a patient goes into cardiopulmonary arrest; Gardner’s heart stopped beating normally endangering blood flow to her brain.
“Gardner was in the right place at the right time,” said Brenda George, RN, MBA and Manager of the KP Santa Clara Emergency Department. “An emergency department physician was right there assessing the situation and starting CPR.”
For several years, Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara and other KP Hospitals have stationed physicians in the reception area of the ED. That means clinical decisions can be made quickly and efficiently. For Gardner, at a time when seconds count, the protocols made the difference.
“It all happened very quickly,” said Mata. “Fortunately, Gardner was on a gurney so she didn’t fall to the floor and further injure herself.”
A team of ED doctors and nurses was quickly activated. Using a defibrillator, they were able to shock and re-start Gardner’s heart briefly, and then do it a second time. She was rushed to the KP Santa Clara Catheterization Lab, where cardiologists where able to insert a stent, a kind of tube-like device that reopens obstructed blood vessels. The obstruction caused Gardner’s heart attack.
Within several hours after walking into the ED, Gardner awoke in a recovery area. It was dark, but there was a nurse at her side, talking to her.
“She said to me, ‘Honey, you died twice but you look pretty good now’,” laughed Gardner, in her hospital bed. She can still joke, but later found she had collapsed on her deceased grandmother’s birthday.
“I was very close to her and she to me,” says Gardner. “I’m sure she didn’t want to see me yet, so she and the Kaiser Permanente team worked together to keep me alive.”
Gardner’s heart-healthy life will help: for the past year, she’s eaten healthy foods, exercised, and lost a lot of weight. Despite the attack, she vows to “keep it up.”
“I’ve seen emergencies like this once before in my career,” says Murphy. “It’s great all the protocols worked to save Gardner’s life.”