SAN ANTONIO -

For the last five years, area hospitals and EMS teams have collaborated on something called the Heart Alert program.

The program is designed to get both entities on the same page when it comes to treating heart attack patients, because when it comes to saving patients lives minutes matter.

"If EMS guys know the right place to take a patient, and if the hospitals are in good communication and the hospitals know what's expected, your survivals are going to be higher," said Eric Epley, the executive director of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, the agency whose aim it is to collaborate medical trauma services across South Texas.

From the moment a heart attack patient is picked up, hospitals are notified. EMS then delivers the patient to the nearest hospital that has catheter and cardiology staff ready to see the patient.

"That quick, SWAT-like response system activated from the beginning from the field is very important to survival and were literally are trying to shave minutes," said Epley.

In the five years since the program was first implemented, the average time from EMS deployment to a patient having an angioplasty or stent has dropped from about one-and-a-half hours to just under an hour.

"It was so coordinated it looked like it was almost choreographed," said Schertz resident Richard Dziewit. D

ziewit has a heart attack in December of 2012. The quick response brought about by the Heart Alert procedures likely saved his life.

There are almost two-dozen hospitals here in Bexar County. Most of them see themselves as being in competition with one another, but not when it comes to saving the lives of heart attack patients.

"Our physicians and our nursing staffs set aside those things to come together for critical patients like Heart Alerts," said Epley.

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