40th Anniversary Flashback: Launch of the STEMI Heart Attack Program

March 24, 2016

A heart attack is never good, but a STEMI heart attack is the most serious and deadly. It means that one of the arteries that deliver blood to the heart is completely blocked. The longer the heart goes without blood, the greater the damage.

In 2004, the Ottawa Heart Institute launched its STEMI heart attack program to minimize the lag time between heart attack and treatment.

“Every minute counts when the coronary artery is blocked. This program is designed to save time and lives,” said Michel Le May, MD, Director of the Coronary Care Unit.                 

In 2001, Dr. Le May and leaders in the Ottawa paramedic community set to work on an ambitious plan: to train advanced care paramedics to diagnose STEMI heart attacks in the field and route those patients directly to the Heart Institute for emergency angioplasty.

The STEMI protocol they developed saves precious time by bypassing local emergency departments. In cases where a patient comes to an emergency department on his or her own and is diagnosed with a STEMI, they are transferred directly to the Heart Institute by ambulance, without treatment or consultation with a cardiologist.

When a STEMI heart attack is identified, a Code STEMI is triggered in the Heart Institute. An emergency STEMI team, available 24/7, is alerted to administer optimal care—usually angioplasty, also known as a percutaneous coronary intervention—as quickly as possible.

What began as pilot project and quickly grew to a city-wide initiative was remarkably successful, cutting STEMI deaths by 50%. The results were reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008. The next year, the STEMI protocol was adapted to extend across the entire Champlain region of Eastern Ontario, covering hospitals more than 180 kilometres away.

The protocol has proven so effective at saving lives that it has served as the model for similar programs across Canada and influenced care around the world. Dr. Le May’s pioneering work has been widely recognized, most notably by:

  • the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Medical Association Journal as a Top Canadian Achievement in Health Research
  • the Lumen Global Achievement Award

Our 40th Anniversary Flashback series continues throughout 2016.