Level One Heart Attack Program

Now the model of care for treating heart attack patients across the nation, Level One focuses on rapid transfer and treatment of patients who present to rural hospitals without advanced cardiovascular capabilities.

Twenty Years of Level One

Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF) researchers pioneered the Level One program, which affords people having a heart attack within a 200-mile radius of a large metro area the same access to life-saving care as those living a few blocks away. The Level One program represents a wonderful example of the durable impact of MHIF’s research and education. It also highlights the importance of the strong partnership between MHIF and the Minneapolis Heart Institute® physicians and support teams.

The Level One program developed an efficient method for the transfer and treatment of patients with heart attacks who present to hospitals that lack advanced cardiovascular capabilities. The goal is to open the blocked artery in less than 90 minutes from the time the patient arrives at a community emergency department. The mission is to provide patients the same level of advanced cardiovascular care that is necessary to survive a heart attack and lead a long, productive life thereafter, whether they arrive at a small community hospital or an advanced urban center.

The significant impact of the Level One program has extended far beyond the Twin Cities. As of 2017:

  • 5,600+ patients have received care as part of the Level One program.
  • MHIF researchers have sharing data and learnings with colleagues across the world through 200+ publications.
  • 27 community hospitals participate in Level One across the state of Minnesota alone.
  • The average age of patients who had heart attacks and benefited from the Level One program since it started is 63.8 years.

The continued success of this program is remarkable – it has been adopted throughout the United States and the rest of the world. 

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Outcomes of Level One Heart Attack Program
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Helipad landing at Abbot

The First Patient

A Life-Saving Journey Through the Level One Program

A patient arrived at the Emergency Department in Waconia, Minnesota around 10 p.m. on a Sunday evening. The cardiologist on duty at Abbott Northwestern Hospital responded to the call that there was a patient with a heart attack being transferred by helicopter from Waconia.

For the first patient, the journey by helicopter was life-saving. His condition was critical, with imaging of his heart showing one of his arteries was 100 percent blocked, while another was 90 percent blocked. That Sunday night, the patient received two stents to restore blood flow to his heart. He was the very first patient to receive treatment for his heart attack as part of the innovative Level One program pioneered by the physician researchers at MHIF.

There was a realization that if this first patient had not been transferred to have access to the cardiovascular treatments needed to open his arteries, the outcome would not have been successful. The first case inspired the Level One team to go faster.

Then to Now

The Level One program has changed the standard of care to ensure that patients in rural areas without a cardiologist on duty have the opportunity to receive the latest in cardiovascular care.

The Founders of MHIF had the insight in 1982 to form an organization that would support research and education that are critical to improving care and outcomes for patients. Working in partnership with Minneapolis Heart Institute® physicians, there is an opportunity to ask questions and do the research to get answers or make improvements in patient care. With education, it’s also the ability to share and publish learnings from the research.

A large team of people contributed to the success of the Level One program. From the physicians who asked the first questions, to the team on the ground developing the protocol, helping patients and learning from each step throughout the process. For a program that crosses the state and operates around the clock, there were community members, local law enforcement and emergency teams, security personnel, helicopter flight crews and many dedicated nurses and physicians who contributed to the program that represents the impact research can have in saving lives around the world.

Special appreciation goes to the pioneers involved in the program: Dr. Tim Henry, Dr. David Larson and Barb Unger who were tireless in their efforts to improve care for patients who have a heart attack in a rural setting. None of this would have been possible without the committed team of Drs. Burke, Chavez, Lips, Madison, Mooney, Pederson, Poulose, Traverse and Wang.

Henry, Larson, Unger

Karla was cooled and airlifted to Abbott Northwestern Hospital, where she was able to receive the life-saving care she needed, despite the fact that she lived 60 miles away.

Grandpa and baby

Support Innovative Care

A gift to the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation makes a difference in ensuring lifesaving breakthroughs continue. 

Give the Gift of Hope
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The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF) strives to create a world without heart and vascular disease. To achieve this bold vision, we are dedicated to improving the cardiovascular health of individuals and communities through innovative research and education.

Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, we can continue this life-saving work. Please make a gift to support the area of greatest need.

Celebrate Heart Month with a Gift Towards Research!

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hearts illustrative background

Heart disease is the #1 cause of death of men and women, claiming the lives of 700,000 people annually; our fathers and mothers; our friends and loved-ones.

Together, we can change that statistic with an investment in life-changing research and education. This heart month, we hope you'll make a special gift in honor of a loved one and the physicians, researchers and educators working to create a world without heart and vascular disease.