MORGANTOWN, W.VA. – Alyssa Benincosa, a third-year student in the Physical Therapy program in the West Virginia University School of Medicine, relied on her training, intuition and observation skills to identify that a patient was starting to have a heart attack during her clinical rotation at the Fairmont Regional Medical Center early in the semester.
The patient was receiving physical therapy services for a shoulder problem when Alyssa noted the patient was complaining of unusual shoulder pain. While discomfort is to be expected from a patient that is recovering from an injury to the area, they also complained about heaviness in the chest. Benincosa also noticed the patient was flushed.
“The way the patient was describing the pain led me to believe that it was more than the musculoskeletal, mechanical types that we’re used to working with,” said Benincosa. “In the course of our classwork instructors highlight red flags that we’re supposed to look out for and that in-class knowledge I gained turned out to be indispensable and invaluable.”
She alerted her direct clinical supervisor, Rebecca Cunningham, PT, and they assessed the patient’s vital signs. While blood pressure was elevated, it wasn’t registering as immediately dangerous, but when paired with the other symptoms, Benincosa and Cunningham urged the patient to go to the emergency department to get it checked out.
The patient initially resisted, but Benincosa helped them understand the severity of the situation at hand if they were having a heart attack.
“I helped the patient make the best choice by thinking through the scenarios and explaining the other symptoms were the priority – not the physical therapy session. Even if they sought treatment and it turned out to be nothing, that would’ve been better than not seeking treatment at all,” said Benincosa.
After heading to the emergency room, it was determined the patient was indeed having a heart attack and the patient was able to receive the necessary treatment.
When asked about the situation, Cunningham explained it’s rare to have a medical emergency in clinic, and even more rare for a student to speak up about it. She said that in all of her experience in working with students, few have the confidence to be assertive in the moment as Benincosa was.
Fairmont Regional Medical Center is one of several partnership sites where WVU Physical Therapy students gain experience working with a clinical instructor to provide patient care.
“Students from the WVU Physical Therapy program are always well-prepared and up to the tasks given,” explained Lauren Graham PT, director of rehabilitation for Fairmont Regional Medical Center. “And, it’s always great to see students who are primed to be exceptional caregivers -- we’re thankful Alyssa was working with that patient that day.”