American Heart Month: Calling 911 Early Saves Lives

Armen Hareyan's picture

Heart disease and stroke are the first and third leading causes of death for men and women in the United States. Too often, symptoms go undetected because of lack of awareness. Studies show that people who are having a heart attack or stroke often do not know they are having one.

“A heart attack was one of the farthest things from my mind,” said Travis Knick, a 34-year-old police officer. “I didn’t have any of the classic symptoms. I didn’t have chest pain; I didn’t have any tingling. My extremities were not going numb.”

In October 2009, Knick began to perspire profusely while he was at a training facility in Sanford. Slender and in good physical shape, he was the picture of perfect health. He had no reason to suspect that he would not finish training that day with his fellow police officers. The weather was comfortable, but he had broken out in a cold sweat. In a matter of minutes, he began to feel very tired. Then his fingers and toes felt like they were curling up and clenching into a fist. The last thing he remembers was collapsing into the arms of one of his instructors. Someone immediately called 911. It wasn’t until he was at the cardiac care unit in Pinehurst that he learned he had just had a heart attack.

Joseph Foley, age 53, a member of the board of directors for H.O.P.E. for Stroke, was 45 years old when he had a stroke. Vacationing in Bermuda with his wife a few years ago, he was taking a moped out for a spin when his accident occurred. He landed with his head down on the pavement.

“I didn’t experience the first signs of any trauma until about a month later,” Foley said. “I became dizzy all of a sudden, then I began to throw up.” Unfortunately, neither Foley nor his wife thought to call 911; instead, he called his doctor and was told to go to the emergency room.

“I sat in the waiting room for four and a half hours before someone saw me,” he said. “It was then I found out that I had had a severe stroke. I couldn’t talk.”

Today, after many years of rehabilitation, Foley has regained much of his earlier functioning, but he still experiences a lot of disequilibrium. “If I had a chance to do it all over again, I would have called 911 right away,” he said. “I cannot overstate the importance of calling 911.”


The Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence (CCME) is pleased to announce its support of American Heart Month during February to increase awareness about the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack and stroke and the importance of calling 911. Heart disease and stroke kill more than 850,000 people each year. Nearly 1 in 5 cardiovascular disease deaths among North Carolinians occur among those younger than 65 years of age.

CCME is a physician-sponsored, non-profit organization that has built its solid reputation on advancing the quality of health care. CCME works with a variety of health care organizations to support cardiovascular health promotion and cardiovascular disease prevention.

Call 911 immediately if you experience any signs or symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.

The early warning signs or symptoms of a heart attack include:

* Chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes.
* Shortness of breath.
* Discomfort in other areas of the upper body such as in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
* Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

The early warning signs or symptoms of a stroke include:

* Paralysis
* Sudden numbness
* Slurred speech
* Sudden, intense headache
* Memory loss

Knick considers himself to be very lucky, because someone called 911. “I cannot stress enough how important it is to call 911 if you think you’re having a medical emergency,” he said. “Calling 911 is critical—it is almost always the fastest way to get life-saving treatment.”