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"Pioneer nurse wins award for life-saving heart scheme"

January 3, 2006 -- Today the Scotsman site posted a very good Evening News piece by Alan McEwen about a life-saving initiative by an Edinburgh nurse to enable paramedics to treat heart attack victims with "clot-busting" thrombolytic drugs. The nurse, Scott McLean of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, has received an Excellence Award from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) for his "pivotal" role in the project. The piece is especially impressive in that it recognizes a nurse for taking the lead in actually saving patients' hearts, rather than simply having a good heart himself.

The article explains that thrombolytic drugs dissolve blood clots blocking coronary arteries. So they should be given as soon as possible after a heart attack, to reduce the risk of permanent damage. But under the previous system, heart attack victims reportedly did not get the drugs until they had been assessed in the hospital's accident and emergency unit and taken to the coronary care unit. McLean "and his team" noted that most patients did not get the drugs within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital. So he initiated a project to train 189 paramedics to interpret and transmit electrocardiogram readings from likely adult victims, and to administer the drugs from the ambulance when a heart attack was diagnosed. The piece notes that "paramedics, nurses, doctors and hospital managers...worked together under Mr McLean's direction" on the project. It also notes that McLean "studied at the University of Abertay in Dundee and graduated in 1995." The reported result? Patients got the drugs on average more than an hour earlier.

The piece also includes several quotes as to the significance of McLean's work. BHF medical director Professor Peter Weissberg stresses how important the quick delivery of the drugs is to the survival of heart attack patients: "Every second counts, which is why the achievement in Edinburgh to cut an hour off this delay is so impressive." McLean himself, a senior cardiology nurse who said that he shared the award with his colleagues, noted that his "primary role is in leading the Chest Pain Service at the Royal Infirmary but I saw the potential benefits of this system. I would say that the most valuable lesson for colleagues elsewhere involves being prepared to step outside job descriptions and embrace projects which, in essence, are 'nobody's job', but which can have a great impact."

This is a great point. We might go even farther and suggest that in a sense this kind of thing is every nurse's job, since nursing focuses on this kind of practical innovation. But nurses often do not expect or receive the support needed to translate such ideas into reality. We salute Mr. McLean for his work, and his colleagues for giving him a chance to do it.

The article itself does a very good job in a short space of explaining the importance of the project, with a clear focus on Mr. McLean's substantive achievement, leadership, and professional background--and no hint of angel or handmaiden imagery. The piece even resists the temptation to make some remark about nurses and hearts. We thank Mr. McEwen and the Evening News for their work.

See the article "Pioneer nurse wins award for life-saving heart scheme" by Alan McEwen in the January 3, 2006 edition of the Scotsman.