Published on September 18, 2020

Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center receives prestigious cardiology award

Expert care at St. Mary’s Medical Center helps Grand Rapids woman survive severe heart attack

Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center has received the American College of Cardiology’s NCDR Chest Pain – MI Registry Platinum Performance Achievement Award for 2020. St. Mary’s Medical Center is one of only 140 hospitals nationwide to receive the honor.

The award recognizes St. Mary’s Medical Center’s success in implementing a higher standard of care for heart attack patients, as well as our strict adherence to clinical guidelines and recommendations as outlined by the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost 700,000 Americans suffer a heart attack each year.


If anyone can attest to the quality of cardiology care at St. Mary’s Medical Center, it’s Mona Warnke. The 57-year-old started sweating profusely about 15 minutes after she arrived to work the night shift at Northland Recovery Center in Grand Rapids on Sunday, May 24.
Mona was in the early stages of a severe heart attack that nearly took her life. The sweating began without warning and her condition progressively deteriorated. She was hardly alert when paramedics arrived.

“And that’s the last I remember until Tuesday (May 26) late afternoon or evening when I woke up at St. Mary’s — alive,” Mona recalled.

In between, she had been rushed to Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital in Grand Rapids, then life-flighted to St. Mary’s Medical Center. Along the way, Mona became unresponsive. She didn’t have a pulse. The acidity of her blood fell to 6.98; the normal range is between 7.35-7.45. This, along with other metrics, suggested Mona may not survive.

At St. Mary’s Medical Center, she was treated by cardiologist Kalkidan Bishu. Dr. Bishu first placed a stent in Mona’s right coronary artery, which was 100% blocked, then her left anterior descending artery, which was 90% blocked. An intra-aortic balloon pump was installed through an artery in her leg to rest the heart during recovery.

A mere 34 minutes lapsed from the time Mona arrived at St. Mary’s Medical Center until the balloon was installed. Once she was in the cath lab, it took only 10 minutes for Dr. Bishu and his team to open the arteries and stop the heart attack.

“It’s a blessing to work with an inspired and engaged team of people committed to delivering excellent heart care,” Dr. Bishu said. “Mona’s outcome is made possible through the dedication of our regional STEMI (ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction) program, including system coordinators, first responders, emergency room and dispatch team, cardiac catheterization team and inpatient providers, as well as the subsequent care in our regional heart centers and cardiac rehab program.”

Three and a half months later, Mona is back to work full-time and committed to a healthier lifestyle. She hasn’t smoked a cigarette since May 24 and is forcing herself to get ample sleep. Her family has a history of heart problems, but Mona experienced only minor chest pain prior to the heart attack.

Given how dire her situation was that night, she feels fortunate to be alive. Mona couldn’t say enough good things about the care she received, and was surprised by the sheer number of individuals involved. They never quit on her.

“I got a second chance and I can’t thank them enough for hanging in there and just working and working on me,” she said. “They never gave up on me, and they saved my life. It’s just great to be around, it really is, and I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart — literally.”

Because of COVID-19, Mona’s family was unable to visit her in the hospital. But, she says, “the doctors and nursing staff went above and beyond to keep everyone informed of my condition and progress.” That included calling Mona’s sister with updates and taking the time to answer any and all questions.

“This was deeply appreciated and will not be forgotten,” said Mona, who added that if her mom were still alive there would have been pans of homemade cinnamon rolls for everyone at Essentia.
Mona continues to rehab at the Essentia Health-Grand Rapids Clinic.
One sign of the remarkable progress she’s made: Her ejection fraction, which shows the percentage of blood leaving the heart each time it contracts, was 23% on May 25. Normal is considered 55% or higher. On Aug. 17, Mona’s ejection fraction was 56.5%.

“I feel good,” she says.

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