Public Release: 

Pioneer of paramedic model to be honored

LA BioMed's John Michael Criley developed life-saving techniques

LA BioMed

TORRANCE (April 3, 2008) - The American Heart Association's Los Angeles Division today will honor John Michael Criley, M.D., the pioneer of the paramedic model in use around the country and one of the outstanding investigators at Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioMed).

The association will present its "Passion of the Heart Awards" to Dr. Criley and William Koenig, Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency's medical director, at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel during the association's annual Heart Awards Ceremony beginning at 6 p.m. today.

The awards recognize the evolution of advanced cardiac care in LA County, starting with the paramedic program and continuing with recent advancements in which paramedics take patients suffering from a "STEMI" (S-T Elevation Myocardial Infarction) to a hospital providing intracoronary intervention to restore blood flow to the threatened heart muscle.

"Dr. Criley is an outstanding investigator and cardiologist whose work has literally saved tens of thousands of lives," said LA BioMed President and CEO Kenneth P. Trevett, J.D. "I congratulate him on this much-deserved award and for his many contributions to advancing the pace of discovery and improving human health care."

Before 1969, when Dr. Criley launched the paramedic program, most heart attack victims received little or no treatment before their arrival at the hospital. Dr. Criley had learned of the improved outcomes when teams of doctors and nurses rushed to the homes of heart attack victims in Belfast, Northern Ireland to provide advanced cardiac care before and during the transport of a patient to the hospital.

Sending doctors and nurses to the homes of patients in far-flung Los Angeles was an impractical solution. So Dr. Criley decided in 1969 to train the professionals who were already responding to emergencies - Los Angeles firefighters.

"The firefighters were already responding to emergency calls to help get cats out of trees or provide first aid in the field," Dr. Criley said. "But they didn't have any special tools to deal with heart attacks or special emergencies. We thought if we could bring up the level of training of these firefighters, we could make them essentially a coronary care unit in the field."

A pilot program was initiated at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in 1969, with classroom and bedside training.

Working side-by-side with nurses and physicians in the medical center's Coronary Care Unit, these firefighters learned how to recognize and provide emergency care to heart attack victims. They then began to respond to emergency calls, starting with a station wagon called the "Heart Rescue Unit" to bring EKG monitoring equipment, antiarrhythmic drugs and a defibrillator to the victim.

Two-way communication between the field and the base station in the Coronary Care Unit was maintained throughout the rescue. One paramedic and the nurse would then ride in a commercial ambulance to continue to provide advanced care in transit to the hospital.

During the first year of service, a nurse accompanied the firefighters on all their calls because the law didn't permit firefighters to administer intravenous medications or use a defibrillator.

After numerous trips to Sacramento and the invaluable help of late Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, the Wedworth-Townsend Paramedic Act was passed and signed into law by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1971. Under that law, the firefighters - now called paramedics - could administer intravenous medications and use a defibrillator without nursing supervision.

In an "only in LA" twist, Hollywood executives heard of the service and developed a television show, called "Emergency," about those early-day paramedic services. The TV show popularized the concept, leading to its widespread adoption by fire departments around the country.

Today, Dr. Criley continues to serve as one of LA BioMed's investigators, a cardiologist at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and a professor of medicine and radiological sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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About LA BioMed

Founded 56 years ago, LA BioMed is one of the country's largest, not-for-profit independent biomedical research institutes. It conducts biomedical research, trains young scientists and provides community services, including childhood immunization, nutrition assistance and anti-gang violence programs. The institute's researchers conduct studies in such areas as cardio-vascular disease, emerging infections, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, dermatology, reproductive health, vaccine development, respiratory disorders, inherited illnesses and neonatology.

LA BioMed is an independent institute that is academically affiliated with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. The institute is located on the campus of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance.

It contributes to Los Angeles County's economic viability while inventing the future of health care through its ground-breaking research, its training of the scientists of tomorrow and its service to the local community. Please visit our website at www.LABioMed.org

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