Life Preserver for the Heart

February 13, 2009 9:29:17 PM PST
Sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of more than 300,000 Americans every year. Ninety-five percent die within minutes, before ever reaching a hospital. Rapid treatment with a defibrillator can be a lifesaver, but there's not always one within reach. Now, wearing a special vest could be the protection failing hearts need.Thomas Benton survived two heart attacks and lung cancer, but this year he thought his time had finally run out.

"I was looking at the end of my life," Thomas told Ivanhoe. "It was over." His heart was failing.

"He had been hospitalized at least two or three times in the last few months because of worsening congestive heart failure," Debbie Rinde-Hoffman, M.D., the medical director of the cardiac transplant program at Tampa General Hospital in Fla., told Ivanhoe.

While Thomas waited for a heart transplant, his doctor prescribed this vest. It's a wearable defibrillator designed to shock the heart during a sudden cardiac arrest. Within the first 24 hours of wearing it, it went off.

"I didn't feel it go off," Thomas recalled. "It sounds a siren, then it tells everyone to get back, it's going to go off. I was out cold. I didn't even feel the shock. I woke up to six or seven nurses gathered around the bed, and the external defibrillator had gone off and saved my life."

Benton's wife recalls the moments after it happened.

"He said the vest went off," Donna Benton told Ivanhoe. "At first it didn't register. 'What does that mean, the vest went off?' Then it finally did. 'Oh, he was dead ... He's alive!'

"The vest did what it was programmed to do," Dr. Rinde-Hoffman said. "He went into a potentially deadly rhythm disturbance and the vest shocked him and saved his life."

More than a month later, Thomas is recovering from a successful heart transplant and celebrating a birthday he didn't think he'd have.

The wearable defibrillator is worn at home and covered by Medicare and most insurance companies for patients with a variety of cardiac problems. It is a less expensive option than an implantable heart device.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Tampa General Hospital
Ellen Fiss, Public Relations Manager
(813) 844-6397
efiss@tgh.org

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