CLEVELAND -- After being treated at University Hospitals for abdominal pain, a patient’s cardiologist recommended a wearable defibrillator vest. Just three days later, it saved his life.
October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month. According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, nearly 350,000 people experience out-of-hospital cardiac arrest every year and in more than half of those instances there is no witness.
Glynn Crawford was hospitalized at University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center in late June/early July for chronic abdominal issues associated with his irregular heartbeat (paroxysmal atrial fibrillation) and circulation issues (non-ischemic cardiomyopathy). After prescribing medications, UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute cardiologist Barbara Williams, MD, determined Crawford had increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). SCA occurs when a failure of the heart’s electrical system triggers a dangerously fast heartbeat - so fast that it causes the heart to quiver or shake instead of pumping blood to the body and brain. Dr. Williams took an extra step to protect Crawford from sudden cardiac death by recommending a ZOLL LifeVest. The vest continuously monitors the wearer’s heart. If it detects a life-threatening rapid heart rhythm, it will automatically deliver a treatment shock to restore the normal rhythm. The device also alerts bystanders when a shock has been delivered so they can contact emergency medical personnel.
“Glynn is the perfect example of a good candidate for the LifeVest,” said Mauricio Arruda, MD, Director, Clinical Electrophysiology and Pacing at UH Cleveland Medical Center. “Another potential benefit of the LifeVest would be to someone after a heart attack resulting in decreased heart function who undergoes intervention to re-open a blocked coronary artery. Such a patient may be at risk of sudden death for a period of time.”
Just three days after leaving the hospital, the vest saved the 68-year-old’s life when he was lying in bed at home in Warrensville Heights. “The next thing I knew, I woke up with my wife telling me that the vest had shocked my heart back into rhythm,” said Crawford. “The alarm had alerted her to what was happening and she called 911. When they arrived, I was able to walk outside to the ambulance myself.”
“Very grateful, I can’t even begin to explain it,” said Crawford. “I wouldn’t be alive without it, because I didn’t realize that I was as sick as I was at the time.”
The following day, a permanent defibrillator was implanted in his chest. The palm-sized device serves the same purpose as the vest, continuously monitoring the heart and providing a shock when needed to help establish a normal heart rhythm.
Dr. Arruda says it’s important for heart patients to have awareness about devices like the LifeVest. “These devices are potentially under-prescribed and underutilized, particularly at centers with limited education on this issue, no availability of the device or few heart rhythm specialists.”
Today, Crawford’s abdominal issues have resolved and his medications are working well to manage his cardiovascular conditions.
POINTS OF NOTE:
- Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when a failure of the heart’s electrical system triggers a dangerously fast heartbeat — so fast that it causes the heart to quiver or shake instead of pumping blood to the body and brain.
- Patients have an increased risk of SCA following a cardiac event, such as a heart attack or new diagnosis of heart failure.
- Sudden cardiac arrest is different from and not interchangeable with “heart attack.”
- Heart Attack vs. SCA: Many confuse sudden cardiac arrest with a heart attack, but they are not the same. A heart attack is caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to part or parts of the heart, causing damage to the heart muscle. With a heart attack, you may feel severe chest pain or other symptoms. You usually remain awake and can call for help. With SCD, on the other hand, there are no signs that something is about to happen – you suddenly lose consciousness and are not able to call for help. It can happen whether you are awake or asleep.
- The most effective treatment for SCA is an electrical shock (known as “defibrillation”). Without treatment, death from SCA can occur within minutes (this is known as sudden cardiac death or SCD).
- The LifeVest wearable defibrillator is prescribed for patients at risk of SCD. LifeVest is designed to detect a life-threatening rapid heart rhythm and automatically deliver a treatment shock to save the patient’s life.
- Because SCA occurs without warning, patients prescribed LifeVest are instructed to wear it around the clock, only removing it for a quick shower, to ensure protection from sudden cardiac death.
- The vest is not to prevent a heart attack and also not to prevent sudden cardiac arrest. The vest’s purpose is to treat sudden cardiac arrest when it happens and restore a normal heart rhythm. By treating sudden cardiac arrest it prevents sudden cardiac death.