Debra Chaffin, 59, was at risk for a sudden cardiac arrest, but fortunately she had the protection of a wearable defibrillator, a white undergarment that she credits with saving her life.
Eleven days after she was diagnosed with a weak heart, she was outfitted with a LifeVest she wore under her shirt.
The vest was a tight squeeze, but proved its worth on Nov. 9, 2014, when Debra started feeling nauseous.
She recalled lying down to rest and sending out a grandson for a sandwich, thinking she would feel better once she had something to eat.
“All I knew something was not right, something was wrong,” Chaffin said.
She soon lost consciousness.
The LifeVest, however, was not missing a beat, detecting a “ventricular fibrillation,” when the heart beats so rapidly that it shakes instead of delivering blood to the organs. The arrhythmia can be fatal if not treated quickly, said Dr. Ashraf Elsakr, her cardiologist with Advanced Cardiology in Port Orange.
The LifeVest delivered a shock that restored Debra’s normal heart function within a minute of detecting the arrhythmia. A gel was also released to improve the treatment and protect the skin.
The LifeVest delivered the shock without any bystander intervention except for older brother, Dana Morris, calling for an ambulance.
“She turned blue like a Smurf,” Morris recalled. “(I knew) that device went off. I called 9-1-1. It wasn’t a question.”
Debra was taken to Halifax Health Medical Center. Twelve family members followed her there.
The big group was a little bit intimidating for Elsakr, he recalled.
“I thought I better treat her right,” the doctor joked.
Morris was impressed how quickly the doctor took charge when Debra started having more attacks of ventricular fibrillation.
“Some family (members) collapsed and thought that was it,” Morris said. “That was when Capt. Kirk saved her.”
Morris compared Elsakr to the “Star Trek” commander because he looked like “Capt. Kirk at the console. ‘Spock, get me the reading on this. Uhura, get me this.’”
Elsakr said he recognized at the time that Debra needed a more permanent solution, an implantable defibrillator.
“There was no point in waiting,” Elsakr said.
The LifeVest had been a temporary solution, like a life preserver that keeps someone afloat in the ocean until the rescue boat arrives.
Another metaphor is that the LifeVest is considered a “bridge therapy.”
Once a heart condition is detected, insurance requirements typically mandates a waiting period of a few weeks to a few months to determine the best course of treatment, Elsakr explained.
The idea is to avoid rushing into something that is not best for the patient. Some patients will improve with a change in lifestyle and may not need an invasive procedure.
“It’s more or less appropriate to wait,” Elsakr said. “A lot of patients do get better. “
“I’m a believer that there are causes for everything,” he added. “You should try to seek the cause for the problem before you fix anything.”
Elsakr said Debra’s situation was complicated because she had an underlying lung condition.
To make sure she was safe, Elsakr prescribed her the LifeVest, which her insurance covered.
She had to wear it 24 hours a day, except for the shower. Sometimes she took it off when nobody else was around. It felt a little snug, she said.
The LifeVest also works as a heart monitor. An online patient management system allows clinicians to access patient data downloaded from the wearable defibrillator.
Manufactured by Zoll, a Pittsburgh-based company, it has been on the market since it was approved by the Food & Drug Administration in 2001.
Debra had not heard of the vest until Elsakr prescribed it for her. She would recommend it to anybody.
“You don’t want to lose your mom, your dad,” Debra said. “That’s what life is all about, family.”
Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.news-journalonline.com