HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - ‘Safer at home’ is what health experts recommend during the coronavirus pandemic, except when it comes to an emergency.
Teri Arnold knows firsthand about not waiting when it comes to a medical emergency. In October of 2014, she suffered a heart attack at the age of 42.
“I was very healthy,” Arnold said. “I worked out pretty much every day. I had a vegan diet, I still do. I never thought I’d ever have any heart complications, or any heart disease whatsoever.”
Arnold found out she had a rare heart disease known as coronary microvascular disease, where the arteries tighten and prevent blood flow to the heart. Every day, she takes 10 pills at night and seven in the morning to manage the disease.
“Without those medications, I would be disabled,” she said.
The night of her heart attack, Arnold remembered waking up in the middle of the night with all the warning signs.
“I had chest pressure, really badly; it was like a cinder block sitting on my chest,” Arnold said. “I sat up and I felt nauseous. I stood up and then I had arm pain and I was starting to sweat.”
Arnold, who is the marketing and communications director with the AHA, knew she had to go to the hospital.
“If my partner did not call 911 at that time, I might not be here today,” said Arnold.
Not waiting to seek medical attention at the ER is the message the American Heart Association wants to convey as Hampton Roads continues to grapple with COVID-19 and the recent rise in cases.
The organization is using the “Don’t Die of Doubt” video campaign to urge people to go to the hospital for medical emergencies.
“There was a critical need to reach everyone across the country and provide reassurance that it is safe to visit the emergency room, and it’s safe to call 911 and ride in an ambulance,” said American Heart Association of Hampton Roads Executive Director MeShall Hills. “Every second, every minute counts. It’s important for individuals not to sit at home and not stay at home if they’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.”
The campaign comes after data showed a significant drop in non-COVID related ER visits during the height of the pandemic.
Sentara Emergency Departments saw a 40 percent decrease in the number of patients in March and April. They are seeing about a 30 percent decrease in ED visitors compared to this time last year.
Sentara Healthcare spokespeople stated, “Whether that hesitation is based on fear, confusion, or assumptions about the safety or capacity of EDs during this time, this is a dangerous trend. No one should wait to call 911 or go to the ED in an emergency.”
Bon Secours also reported seeing fewer people seeking emergency care during March and April.
“With the initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bon Secours saw a significant drop in emergency department (ED) visits,” said spokesperson Jenna Green. “With fewer patients seeking emergency care, we have seen a higher level of acuity of those admitted to our inpatient facilities, which may stem from those with chronic or acute conditions delaying needed in-person medical services. However, with the support of our comprehensive telemedicine platform, fully operational outpatient physician practices, and the assurance of safe care in our hospital facilities, we have seen an increase in ED visits in the last two months with a return to near pre-COVID-19 care volumes anticipated in July.”
Both health systems are starting to see ER visits slowly increase, but the American Heart Association believes the fear of catching COVID is still keeping many people away.
Hills said the campaign is meant to quell those fears.
“Hospitals are prepared for this,” she said. “You can receive safe care for heart attacks and stroke symptoms and other urgent medical needs. The hospital is the safest place to be during a medical emergency.”
Though Arnold said her immune system is compromised, she wouldn’t hesitate heading to the ER.
“They are going to give you immediate care in a safe environment,” she said.
According to Hills, a local “Don’t Die of Doubt” campaign will be displayed on billboards across Hampton Roads by next month. She said the goal is to target communities disproportionately impacted by COVID.