For Varadarajan, a 51-year-old resident of Karur, it seemed just like a bit of fatigue when he felt a small pain in his chest at 4 a.m. on Friday. However, as the pain did not recede even after sometime, his family became anxious and called the GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI) — 108 Ambulance Service at 5 a.m.

The 108’s Emergency Response Centre in Chennai, to which the call went, deployed an ambulance equipped with an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine, which takes an electrical recording of the heart.

The ambulance picked up the patient at 5.20 a.m. and an ECG was done at 5.29 a.m. It was confirmed, by 5.34 a.m., that he was having STEMI or ST segment elevation in myocardial infarction, a type of heart attack, and was shifted to a private hospital in Karur for thrombolysis. After the thrombolysis, Varadarajan was shifted by the 108 Ambulance to Kovai Medical Center and Hospital (KMCH) in Coimbatore by 2.20 p.m. and angioplasty was performed immediately.

H. Mohan, Regional Manager (western region), GVK EMRI-108 Ambulance Services, told The Hindu that Varadarajan was the first beneficiary in western region of a new initiative for heart patients spearheaded by STEMI-India, a not-for-profit collective of interventional cardiologists and the Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project. The initiative involves the government, private and government hospitals, international experts and the 108 ambulance service. While around 30 patients in the region have been shifted to other hospitals using these ambulances to take ECG readings en route, he said that Varadarajan was the first patient to be picked up directly by a 108 ambulance.

This pilot project was now underway in Coimbatore, Tirupur, Karur, Dindigul and Erode districts. The patient was discharged from KMCH on Monday. The entire cost was covered under the Chief Minister’s Health Insurance Scheme, he said.

Under this new initiative, a total of eight ambulances in the 108’s Western Region, which covered 12 districts including Karur, have been fitted with ECG equipment. Emergency Medical Technicians have been trained to take ECG and transmit it to the headquarters and a cardiologist simultaneously through a special instrument designed and provided by STEMI India for analysis.

Three clusters would be set up in Tamil Nadu for this project – Coimbatore, Vellore and Chennai, of which the Coimbatore cluster was already operational. The KMCH here was the hub hospital. Once the construction activity at Coimbatore Medical College Hospital was completed, it was also likely to become a hub hospital, he said.