Now, an innovative way to treat heart attack patients means they're not only surviving but thriving.
Six years ago, architect John Cryer nearly died.
"At 4:30 in the morning I woke up having a heart attack," John told Ivanhoe.
But he was in the right city at the right time. On his way to the hospital, John got a clot-busting drug in the ambulance.
"The fact that I'm standing here today, I would contribute a lot to it," John said.
Dr. James McCarthy, M.D., an emergency medical physician at the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center, and Memorial Herman in Houston, says that drug bought John precious time.
"Someone who calls 911 immediately and gets their artery opened up within the first 60 minutes, their likelihood of dying is very, very small," Dr. McCarthy said.
The average person waits 90 minutes to call for help. Then, it's another 90 minutes or more by the time doctors can open their arteries. Dr. Richard Smalling, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at UT Health and Memorial Hermann Hospital, says their study shows that giving the drug in the field saves lives.
"Eighty percent of the patients that get here after the first dose of drugs already have opened arteries," Dr. Smalling said. " The heart attacks have been stopped not by the doctors, but by the paramedics."
Results show patients who receive the drug have a 50 percent reduction in heart attack size. Bonnie Richter, a paramedic with the Houston Fire Department has seen the benefits firsthand.
"Your job as a paramedic, you want to get them to the hospital, hopefully better than the condition you found them in, and this definitely gives you that opportunity", Richter said.
Patients who get the drug are also 50 percent less likely to die.
"I mean you talk about saving one jumbo jet full of people every other day, that's a big difference in death from heart attacks," Dr. Smalling said.
John knows his outcome could have been much worse.
"I feel very lucky, very lucky," John said.
Doctors hope to test this treatment in a larger phase three study in the near future. Until then, they say the most important thing you can do to save yourself and your heart is to call 911 immediately if you're having chest pain or if you think you're having a heart attack. Earlier treatment usually translates to a much better outcome.
If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at firstname.lastname@example.org