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Format: 04/16/2014
Format: 04/16/2014


Natrona Heights Man Beats “Widow Maker”

Thanks to Extraordinary Life-Saving Measures by Allegheny Valley and Allegheny General Hospital Teams

Allen & Bonnie Fennell“It was the most amazing resuscitation of my career,” said Jerry Taylor, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Allegheny Valley Hospital (AVH). “We defibrillated this gentleman 20 to 30 times.We just wouldn’t give up. Somewhere deep down I knew we were going to save him.” 

The patient, 52-year-old Allen Fennell of Natrona Heights, was driven to Allegheny Valley Hospital by his wife Bonnie in late October when he began suffering from symptoms of a heart attack. According to Mike Hazel, RN, the patient had coded in his car and was unresponsive when the hospital’s Emergency Department staff went outside to get him. “He couldn’t speak; he was pale and turning blue,” said Mr. Hazel.

The team in the Emergency Department, led by Dr. Taylor, immediately started CPR and then defibrillated Mr. Fennell (shocked his heart) repeatedly until a stable heart rhythm was restored. After being resuscitated, he was cooled with therapeutic hypothermia to preserve brain function.
Dr. Taylor suspected from the start that Mr. Fennell had a significant blockage, and his12-lead EKG confirmed 99 percent blockage of the left anterior descending artery – referred to as the “widow maker.” At AVH, Mr. Fennell was given clot-dissolving drugs to keep him stabilized long enough to be transported by LifeFlight helicopter to Allegheny General Hospital.

Severe blockage of the left anterior descending artery is the most frequest cause of a massive heart attack and often leads to sudden death. From the time a “widow maker” hits, a victim seldom has more than a five-minute window to receive emergency care.

When Mr. Fennell arrived at AGH, he was immediately transported to the hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab where interventional cardiologist David Lasorda, DO, opened his blocked artery with balloon angioplasty and stent placement. Due to the severity of the cardiac injury, however, Mr. Fennell subsequently suffered from “cardiogenic shock” (sudden heart failure). This led AGH’s advanced heart failure team to treat him with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). Similar to a heart/lung machine, ECMO is a device that continuously pumps blood from the patient through a membrane that imitates the gas exchange process of the lungs, i.e., it removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen. Oxygenated blood is then returned to the patient.

When it was time to wean Mr. Fennell from the ECMO device, Dr. Lasorda and AGH cardiothoracic surgeons Stephen Bailey, MD, and Robert Moraca, MD, turned to an even newer, stateof-the-art technology, called the TandemHeart Percutaneous Ventricular Assist Device.

The TandemHeart is an externally placed assist device connected to the heart via cannulas inserted through the femoral vein in the leg and threaded via other arteries into the left atrium of the heart. The device draws oxygenated blood from the left atrium of the heart and pumps it throughout the body to perfuse vital organs. The failing heart is essentially bypassed, and the pump circulates oxygenated blood to the body. Designed to provide short-term support, the TandemHeart gives the heart time to strengthen and potentially regain normal function.

Mr. Fennell’s heart indeed recovered, and he was eventually discharged to recuperate fully at home.

“The team of emergency physicians, nurses and technicians at Allegheny Valley Hospital did an amazing job,” said AGH’s Dr. Bailey. “Everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do to give this patient his best chance to survive what is more often than not a fatal cardiac injury. It was just an outstanding effort all around. Extraordinary measures - beyond what is considered standard care – were taken at both AVH and AGH to help this patient beat some incredible odds.”

In addition to Dr. Taylor, other members of the AVH Emergency Department team who played critical roles in the patient’s outcome include Emergency Department nurses Jen Cvetic, RN, Jamie Brown, RN, and Jason Hartman, RN; Brian Kelley, ALS technician; Nick Ladie, nurse aide; Roudy Wall, Security; Lorraine Ponteri, unit secretary; and Mr. Hazel. 

AVH is one of two hospitals in western Pennsylvania to be recognized as an accredited Chest Pain Center. Since the accreditation in the spring of 2011, AVH has treated over 1,050 patients with chest pain. The accreditation is based on stringent clinical requirements and signifies that AVH’s Emergency Department, emergency medical services (EMS) first-responder partners and other hospital staff follow best practice protocols for diagnosing chest pain and ensuring that patients receive the most appropriate treatment.

Recognized by both Thomson Reuters and U.S. News and World Report as one of the country’s preeminent centers for the treatment of cardiovascular disease, AGH is home to one of the most advanced and comprehensive cardiovascular programs in the state. The hospital serves as a major referral center for complex cardiac disorders and is routinely at the forefront of new technologies and emerging medical and interventional therapies for heart disease.


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