Donald Mathison's Story: Heart Attack Rapid Response Saved this South Shore Resident’s Life

Heart Attack Rapid Response Saved Donald Mathison's Life

According to the American Heart Association, approximately every 42 seconds someone in the United States has a heart attack. Abington resident, Donald Mathison became part of that startling statistic when he experienced a massive heart attack at 57 years old. Though he had a family history of heart disease—his father even dying from a massive heart attack at a young age—it still came as a complete shock to him and his family, because he led a very active, healthy lifestyle.

Every Second Counts
National guidelines give doctors a 90-minute window from when a patient arrives at the hospital to the time a balloon is inserted into the blocked artery during angioplasty and blood flow is restored. Door-to-balloon time, as it is called, is the speed in which a hospital can open the blocked artery of a patient in the midst of a heart attack.

“During a heart attack, lost time means lost heart muscle. Every minute becomes crucial to restoring blood flow to the blocked artery,” said David Litvak, MD, cardiologist. “Like many patients suffering a heart attack, Donald’s symptoms started slowly, which often make it easy to ignore and delay treatment.” 

While the day started off like any other workday, it was the subtle but constant uneasy feeling that made Donald apprehensive.

“I just felt off, even questioning whether or not I was having an anxiety attack,” Donald recalled. “But it was the constant nausea and sweating that made me unable to go on with my day.”

Fortunately Donald did act quick and sought treatment at South Shore Hospital, where Dr. Litvak performed balloon angioplasty and stenting, opening the blocked coronary artery.

Dr. Litvak also implanted a new piece of medical equipment under his skin that  could significantly increase his chances of surviving a second heart attack. Donald became the first patient to receive a subcutaneous implantable cardioverter-defibrillator at South Shore Hospital.

The device sits on top of his rib cage and is attached to a wire that runs in an L shape under his skin below and beside his heart. The device can detect if his heart stops and deliver a shock to get it going again.

“It was kind of a no-brainer to decide to do it,” Donald said. “If somebody’s willing to give you a second chance it’s kind of foolish not to take it.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the new kind of implantable defibrillators in 2012. They’ve been used in Boston hospitals since then, but Donald's operation was the first time doctors implanted one at South Shore Hospital.

South Shore Hospital is proud to be the only participating hospital to achieve recognition by the American Heart Association (AHA) for following the latest research-based standards for severe heart attacks—receiving a Mission: Lifeline® Gold Quality Achievement Award. Mission: Lifeline was developed by the AHA to transform heart attack patient outcomes by connecting healthcare providers, prehospital providers and community stakeholders in a proactive system of care that saves and improves lives—from symptom onset through cardiac rehabilitation.

Through teamwork, speed and precision, Donald’s life was saved that day. As an active traveler, father to five girls and happily married to his best friend and longtime wife, Sharon, Donald plans to do anything necessary to maintain his heart health and continue living a full life.