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DIY or die: How an Australian outback nurse diagnosed his own heart attack and saved his life

Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

For a nurse in one of Australia's most remote corners, it is DIY or die.

Alone at his station, more than 600 miles from the city of Perth and 100 miles from any hospital at all, the 44-year-old man experiences a sudden bout of dizziness and severe chest pain.

What he does next is remarkable, life-saving and -- to a considerable degree -- instructive.

He hooks up electrical leads to his upper body, records a heart-rhythm graph and sends it over a phone line established in 2012 to bring medical care to Australia's remote hustings.

Hundreds of miles away, emergency physicians pore over the spikes and spindles of his electrocardiogram to confirm that a clot -- probably a breakaway blob of fatty plaque -- has likely lodged itself in his right coronary artery.

With its supply of oxygenated blood constricted, the nurse's heart had fired off a volley of erratic and dangerous electrical signals.

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His pulse is racing, and his life is very much in danger.

A second electrocardiogram, sent by the nurse 50 minutes later, confirms his dire situation. Sinus tachycardia -- runs of rapid-fire heartbeats -- suggests the vessel has gone from partially blocked to completely blocked.

In other words, things are bad, and getting worse.

If blood flow to the heart is not restored very soon, the result will likely be a barrage of lethal heart rhythms, according to Dr. John Osborne, a cardiologist at Dallas Cardiovascular Center and a volunteer for the American Heart Association.


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