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Doctors fear COVID-19 pandemic is leading to 'alarming' decline in other emergencies

An emergency room survey has doctors concerned people experiencing heart attacks and other emergencies aren't getting the help they need.

ATLANTA — WellStar and the American Heart Association are reminding Georgia residents that hospital emergency rooms are “open and safe” after a recent, informal survey found doctors are seeing a decline of other emergency patients outside those affected by COVID-19.

“Across the country and really across the world, a lot of informal polls have suggested to us that there's about a 40 to 60 percent reduction in some of the emergencies that we normally see, including heart attacks and strokes.” Dr. Barry Mangel with WellStar told 11Alive.

While the decline is only anecdotal right now, doctors say, it's significant enough to draw concern.

Advocates acknowledge that under normal circumstances, a drop in emergencies would be good news but they doubt what’s currently happening is a real decline in people experiencing heart attacks and other emergencies.

“It would seem that it's very unlikely that that's what's happening. And it's our concern that people may be staying home as opposed to going to the emergency departments and rather than risk coming to the hospital during the COVID pandemic,” Dr. Mangel said, adding that his concern is that patients are electing to go to the hospital days after they experience symptoms.

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Credit: WXIA

“It’s most concerning to me, because it's very possible and even likely that these patients will present later on when their medical condition worsens,” Dr. Mangel said.

Piedmont Hospital told 11Alive it did “experience an initial significant decrease, but the numbers have been coming back up. We also have some specific cases where patients came in after initially delaying and had more significant issues as a result of the delay.”

When it comes to emergencies like heart attacks and strokes, time is critical.

Doctors say the longer a patient waits, the more heart muscle they may lose, which cannot be recovered.

Danielle Denlein, who had a heart attack at just 35 years old, knows that too well.

Denlein says she was in the kitchen when she felt the first symptoms.

“It kind of felt like heartburn, at first, but it just kept getting worse then radiating down my left arm,” she said.

RELATED: 200-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients being constructed at World Congress Center

Credit: American Heart Association

Within minutes she called 911 and was on the way to the hospital.

Despite the early intervention, which happened 12 years ago, Denlein says she still lost a significant portion of her heart muscle.

“It was very emotional. Having a baby and then having a heart attack five days later when you're completely healthy. I don't have heart disease in my family. I didn't smoke. I didn't drink. I exercised and I ate well. This massive heart attack came out of nowhere,” she said. “From the minute, you know, they got me in the ambulance to the minute they got me to the catheterization lab, I ended up losing 40% of my heart muscle because it took that long technically to get to the hospital. And every minute counts.”

While Denlein understands the hesitation some people might feel about going to the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, she urges patients to remember that every minute could be life or death.

“Had I not called 911, I 100 percent would have died,” said Denlein.

Kristin Kyle with the Georgia chapter of the American Heart Association says the organization is hoping once the word gets out, people will be encouraged to act quickly when they start experiencing symptoms.

“This is also evident by some of the stories that we're hearing from physicians and nurses of patients coming into the ER and they actually have had episodes a day, two days, three days,” Kyle explained. “It is a heart attack. Cardiac arrest, strokes. These are emergencies, these are not papercuts. They are not twisted ankles. Emergencies just don't stop for covid-19. So the message is really know the signs and symptoms and call 9-1-1 if you or a family member or friend or experiencing this.”

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus.  We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information. 

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information. 

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