“I thought I fell asleep and just fell on the floor.” That’s what Gary Devol, 70, said of his first sudden cardiac arrest experience. Thankfully he was wearing the ZOLL LifeVest, a wearable defibrillator that can provide a constant safeguard against sudden cardiac death. LifeVest is designed to detect a life-threatening rapid heart rhythm and automatically deliver a treatment shock to restore a patient’s normal rhythm. This is exactly what happened when Devol’s heart started beating too quickly. Two days later, the same thing happened while Devol was at a church conference and nearly lost his life. Again, LifeVest detected the life-threatening rapid heart rhythm and delivered a treatment shock, which restored his normal rhythm. This is just one example of the impact the wearable defibrillator has had on patients and their families.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Unlike in the case of a heart attack, individuals who experience a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) do not exhibit any symptoms that could alert them of the impending condition. During a sudden cardiac arrest event, the heart’s electrical control system malfunctions, causing the heart to flutter and shudder, rather than beating effectively. Without the ability to properly pump blood to other parts of the body, the individual experiencing an SCA event can immediately lose consciousness. That’s exactly what happened to Gary. During both of his SCA events, he lost consciousness before he had any chance to respond.
The sudden loss of consciousness may alert bystanders to call for immediate medical assistance, but as time is of the essence in the case of SCA events, lengthy ambulance arrival times may prove to be lethal. Without treatment, death occurs in minutes. An individual’s chance of survival dips an estimated 10 percent every minute without proper medical attention and resuscitation. For those who experience sudden cardiac arrest while alone, the loss of consciousness renders it impossible to summon aid in a timely fashion.
How LifeVest Works
LifeVest is composed of three main components, a garment that is a wearable vest; an electrode belt, which is attached to the garment; and a monitor. As a noninvasive device, the garment is worn under clothing, and the monitor can be attached to a belt loop or worn with a shoulder strap. Patients are provided with training on wearing the garment, washing the garment, changing monitor batteries, and overall best practices. Patients are trained to be self-sufficient in terms of utilizing the device independently.
LifeVest does not require bystander intervention during any part of an SCA event. LifeVest is designed to consistently monitor a patient’s heart rhythm. The device generates an audible alert if a life-threatening rapid heartbeat is detected and can administer treatment shocks, providing individuals with life-saving resuscitation. Once a life-threatening rapid heart rhythm is discovered, LifeVest typically administers a treatment shock in less than a minute. With audible alerts, LifeVest not only informs the individual of impending treatment but also informs bystanders of the need to summon immediate medical care. In the case of individuals who have experienced an SCA while alone, LifeVest can provide the resuscitation needed for individuals to recover consciousness and be rendered able to summon further medical help on their own.
Real Lives Saved
At any given moment, LifeVest is being worn by tens of thousands of individuals around the world who are at a heightened risk of experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. While wearing LifeVest, many individuals have experienced an SCA event and received life-saving resuscitation at the most vulnerable times.
At age 67, David Smith had been married to his wife C’Arren for 31 years. A loving father, grandfather, and husband, Smith’s surprising diagnosis of a heart condition greatly impacted his entire family. His doctor recognized that Smith’s condition heightened his risk of experiencing an SCA event and prescribed LifeVest. For Smith, recognizing the severity of his condition was a wake-up call. He returned home from the hospital with LifeVest, and his family was immediately active in reminding Smith to charge batteries and wash his LifeVest. Less than 30 days after returning home from the hospital, C’Arren was awoken in the middle of the night by LifeVest’s alert, signaling a life-threatening rapid heartbeat and impending treatment. Unconscious by the time C’Arren rose, LifeVest administered treatment, allowing Smith to regain consciousness. Considering this a second chance, Smith has returned to participating in everyday activities, and he fervently advises those with similar risks to adhere to physician recommendations to wear LifeVest, citing his experiences as lifesaving.
In the case of Bobbi Leverette, the 34-year-old mom learned the transformative power of listening to one’s own body. Two weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, the young mom began to experience shortness of breath, lightheadedness, excessive sweating, and swelling. Recognizing these symptoms as problematic throughout pregnancy, Leverette trusted her intuition and went to the emergency room to seek answers. Diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy (a specific type of heart failure experienced throughout the end of pregnancy), physicians alerted the young mother that she was at an increased risk of experiencing an SCA event. Shortly after returning home with LifeVest to her husband and ten-year-old daughter, Leverette found herself requiring the assistance of LifeVest for life-saving support. After putting her newborn down for a nap, she lost consciousness and began experiencing an SCA event. Later, Leverette recounted the experience and the lack of symptoms prior to that moment, when she couldn’t even feel a discernible increase in heart rate prior to losing consciousness. After receiving treatment, Leverette regained consciousness and survived the event. With a newly found purpose in life, Leverette considers LifeVest responsible for saving her life.
As a registered nurse and half-marathon finisher, 47-year-old Laura Wages was seemingly the picture of health. In January of 2017, Wages began to experience pain in her toes, which she recognized as abnormal. Previously diagnosed with premature ventricular contractions (or extra, abnormal heartbeats), Wages was instructed to lower her caffeine intake and went on with her otherwise seemingly healthy lifestyle. Thus, with newly burgeoning pain in her toes, Wages visited her primary physician in an effort to be proactive, and the doctor immediately recognized an irregular heartbeat during the examination. After a referral to a cardiologist, Wages was diagnosed with a reduced heart function, or low “ejection fraction.” Ejection fraction (EF) refers to the percent of blood pumped out of the heart with each beat. A normal EF is 55-70 percent. Patient with an EF of 35 percent or less are at increased risk for SCA Wages’ EF was just 25 percent. For this reason, she went home with LifeVest. While Wages’ did not require a treatment shock since wearing LifeVest, the nurse has garnered a heightened sense of security and peace of mind as a result of having LifeVest ready to save her life at a moment’s notice.
Just days after the death of his older brother, 60-year-old Brian Sweeney suffered a massive heart attack. After a week in the intensive care unit and two stents, Sweeney was discharged from the hospital and instructed to wear LifeVest by his care team. He was initially uncertain of his need to wear LifeVest and wanted to return to the life that he had prior to the heart attack, but Sweeney also understood the need to proactively deal with his new condition. Though Sweeney recognized that he was at an increased risk of experiencing an SCA event, wearing LifeVest helped him establish the confidence that he needed to engage in normal activities, a feat difficult for many heart attack survivors. After wearing LifeVest for a period of six weeks after having his last stents placed, Sweeney unknowingly went into cardiac arrest at the gym after completing a physician-approved exercise schedule. After he lost consciousness, LifeVest administered treatment that restarted Sweeney’s heart, and he now gives thanks to his physician for stressing the importance of utilizing LifeVest as a part of his post-heart attack treatment.
Helene Rish, a 38-year-old school teacher, went to the hospital when she experienced pneumonia-like symptoms, never previously having any heart-related conditions. While hospitalized, testing showed that Rish’s ejection fraction was dangerously low at just 10—15 percent. With every heartbeat, Rish’s heart was only pumping 10—15 percent of her total blood throughout the heart, rendering her at a heightened risk of experiencing an SCA event. Prior to leaving the hospital after eight days, Rish’s care team prescribed LifeVest to protect her should she experience sudden cardiac arrest. Though she was still shocked by her diagnosis, Rish saw LifeVest as a security blanket and felt like she was never alone. During this time, Rish’s care team worked diligently to adjust her medications, hoping to resolve her heart’s efficiency and lower her risk factors for SCA, as the body’s ejection fraction can change. Roughly one month after returning home from the hospital, while her husband and daughter were out of the house, Rish laid down to nap. Before she had a chance to summon medical help, Rish lost consciousness when she experienced an SCA. LifeVest detected the life-threatening rapid heart rhythm and administered a treatment shock that allowed Rish to regain consciousness. While Rish has no recollection of the event, she awoke to the sound of LifeVest’s alerts, recognized what had transpired only a few minutes prior, and was able to call for help. The next morning, while in the hospital, she experienced an SCA event once more, and LifeVest administered the needed defibrillation to save her life once again. Rish received an implanted permanent defibrillator, and with some lifestyle changes and medical therapy, her EF rate has returned to the normal 50 percent range.
After experiencing two serious cardiac-related incidents during the holiday season, Mark Humble found himself in the hospital on Christmas Eve, afraid to go home because of the potential complications on the horizon. He was discharged from the hospital with LifeVest, which doctors explained could provide immediate treatment in the event of a detected life-threatening SCA event. Humble and his wife named his LifeVest “Hope.” Merely one day later, on Christmas, Humble couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that followed him throughout the day. While sitting down for Christmas dinner with his family, he lost consciousness and experienced an SCA event. As his family reacted and summoned medical attention, “Hope” administered a treatment shock that saved Humble’s life. The lifelong carpenter recognized the power of LifeVest and was able to move forward with living life to the fullest every day.
At any time, tens of thousands of individuals throughout the world are wearing LifeVest. LifeVest should give these patients and their loved ones peace of mind knowing they have protection in the event of a life-threatening rapid heart rhythm.