11:21 AM

Don’t ignore heart attack symptoms: Call 911

Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital restores blood flow to the heart 14 minutes faster if patient arrives via ambulance

Sue Burton in Cardiac Rehab with Exercise Physiologist Jaclyn Lamz

GENEVA, Ill. -  Feeling a little flushed, Sue Burton took her dog for a walk in the brisk December air. Just minutes later, she became dizzy. Eager to return home quickly Burton cut through a neighbor’s yard, but as her vision blurred, she sat down. Fortunately, a neighbor saw Burton and ran to get her husband and call 911. Burton, an outdoorsy and active 68-year-old, had suffered a heart attack.

Sue Burton walking her dogBurton was rushed to Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital where interventional cardiologist William P. Towne, MD, performed an angioplasty on two arteries and placed a coronary stent to hold the artery open.

“I eat healthy and am very active so the furthest thing in my mind was that it had something to do with my heart. I just thought I was a little dizzy,” said Burton. “If I hadn’t sat down in the grass, but managed to get home, I probably wouldn’t have put two and two together and wouldn’t have called 911.”

Experts at Northwestern Medicine say Burton’s husband and neighbor did the right thing by calling 911.

“Timing is everything when it comes to surviving a heart attack. The risk of death and disability increases with every passing minute,” said Nauman Mushtaq, MD, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Delnor Hospital. “The quicker a person can activate Emergency Medical Services, the better the outcome.”

In 2021 and 2022, less than half of patients with chest pain diagnosed as a heart attack came to the Delnor Emergency Department via ambulance. The other half either drove themselves or were driven, which delays diagnosis and rapid treatment.

“Calling 911 will have paramedics to you in minutes, initiating possible lifesaving assessment and treatment. An EKG will be performed quickly and interpreted by medics trained to read EKGs as well transmitted to the Emergency Department’s radio, where an emergency physician will also be reviewing it to confirm if it’s a heart attack caused by a blockage,” said Arthur Proust, MD, EMS medical director for the Southern Fox EMS System and an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital.

Bill Towne MD and Nauman Mushtaq in the cardiac cath suite at Delnor HospitalPatients who have blocked arteries require immediate intervention to restore blood flow, or the heart muscle begins to die. That may include clot-busting drugs, angioplasty or immediate coronary artery bypass grafting surgery.

When the heart attack call comes in from the paramedics, the cardiac team begins setting up the catheterization lab. When the patient arrives, the clinical team can quickly transport the patient to the lab for a diagnostic angiogram and immediate treatment.

American Heart Association guidelines recommend patients whose heart attacks are caused by blocked arteries receive artery-clearing treatment within 90 minutes of arriving at the hospital.  On average in 2022, Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital patients who arrived via ambulance had blood flow re-established in 60 minutes. For those who did not come to the hospital via ambulance, the average was 74 minutes, a 14-minute difference.

“It would be our goal to have everyone who is experiencing possible symptoms of a heart attack to call 911. We know with absolute certainty that will reduce mortality by arriving to the emergency room sooner as our cardiac team simultaneously is being mobilized,” said Dr. Proust.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Chest discomfort, which may include pressure or a squeezing pain in the center of the chest, spreading to the neck, shoulder or jaw
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath, which may occur with or without chest discomfort

Sue Burton Blood Pressure Check by Jaclyn LamzAs with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain, but women often report the symptoms are more subtle. Women are also more likely to experience other symptoms that are typically less associated with heart attack, such as shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

“I had zero pain during my heart attack,” said Burton. “If you have in your head that you are only having a heart attack if you have chest-gripping pain, then you are wrong.”

Following her heart procedure, Burton spent a few days in the hospital and now attends cardiac rehabilitation three times a week. She is feeling great and looking forward to a hiking vacation with her husband.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am that someone called 911.”

For more information about cardiovascular services at Northwestern Medicine, visit