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Take Heart Articles
A coronary care unit on wheels
When 47-year-old Melinda Curgan visited her Kingstree family doctor two years ago after suffering chest pain while at work, she had no idea she literally was in for the ride of her life.

After performing an EKG, Curgan’s doctor determined she was having a massive heart attack and rushed her to her area hospital, where she then stopped breathing. After a lengthy resuscitation, Curgan was placed on a breathing machine and given medication to dissolve the blood clots affecting her heart. Once stable, she was placed in Palmetto Health Richland’s Mobile Coronary Care Unit (MCCU), a cardiac critical care ambulance that had been called to transport her to the hospital for more specialized care.

“The minute we placed her in the Mobile CCU, we realized how ill she was,” explains Judy Nichols, a registered nurse. “The Mobile CCU has nine intravenous pumps, and Ms. Curgan needed every single one of them—that’s how many IV drips we were using to keep her stabilized.”

During the almost two-hour drive from Kingstree to Columbia, Nichols was in constant contact with Palmetto Health Heart Hospital cardiologist Dr. Stephen Humphrey, who cared for Curgan once she arrived.

“When we were about 45 minutes away from Columbia, Ms. Curgan went into cardiac arrest,” Nichols says. “We used hands-free pacing pads for defibrillation, but we could not seem to get her heart to beat at a normal pace—letting us know the mechanical part of her heart had quit working. We performed CPR and administered drugs, but her condition continued to deteriorate. Then, we tried a medication that was relatively new to the Mobile CCU. On the second dose of that medication, we were able to get her pulse back and safely transport her to Palmetto Health Richland.”

Once admitted to the hospital, Humphrey performed a heart catheterization and placed a wire mesh stent in one of Curgan’s arteries, alleviating the cause of the heart attack. Nine days later, Curgan was discharged. And, now two years later, she says she feels great. With daily medication and biannual checkups, Curgan monitors her heart’s health. She enjoys spending her free time sailing with her fiancé and relaxing with her children Stephen and Lindsay. “I feel wonderful now and have a new outlook on life,” Curgan says. “I feel very strongly about the importance of the mobile unit and I know I wouldn’t be here today if not for them.”

“The Mobile CCU provides an invaluable service,” Humphrey says. “Once a patient has been placed inside this ambulance, he or she essentially has entered a critical care bed—no matter where that Mobile

CCU might be in South Carolina at that moment. The Mobile CCU’s staff, medications and equipment offer the highest level of care. It’s evident that this service saves lives.”

“Being transported by the Mobile CCU likely saved Ms. Curgan’s life that day,” Nichols says. “To save time, a helicopter traditionally would’ve been used to transport such a critical patient, but helicopters aren’t always available and were not available on that day. Because she was in our coronary care ambulance, we were able to administer life-saving drugs that would not have been found on a general ambulance.”

T H E FA C T S :
Established in March 1992, Palmetto Health Richland’s Mobile CCU transports critical coronary care patients from anywhere in South Carolina to the Palmetto Health Heart Hospital at Richland. Able to transport two patients at a time, the Mobile CCU averages two to three transports a day. When transporting a patient, the Mobile CCU is staffed by at least one certified critical care registered nurse, one paramedic and one emergency medical technician. One of the latter two drive, while the remaining two work in the back with the patient. The Mobile CCU provides patients full access to all cardiac medications, as well as cardiac-based medical equipment.