Wearable Device Helps During Heart Attacks

LifeVest Acts As A Defibrillator

More than $1.2 million Americans will have a heart attack this year. Up to 450,000 people will experience cardiac arrest. Researchers have now found something that's as easy to wear as clothes can also help save your life.

Stacey Alcala is a wife, a mother and a dancer. It all almost came to an end.

"My chest was caving in and my arm was going numb," said Alcala.

Alcala had a heart attack; something that she never thought would happen at the age of 29.

"(I'm) very active, eat right, as best as I can and exercise a lot," said Alcala.

But all of that didn't stop her artery from tearing.

"The only thing that came to my head was what could this do to my girls?" said Alcala.

Alcala survived and was sent home from the hospital with a LifeVest, the first wearable defibrillator.

Heart attack survivors like Alcala are at a 12 percent increased risk for a sudden cardiac arrest, the first three months following the attack.

The LifeVest offers immediate protection.

"The vest has electrodes that go on the surface of the skin that both record the heart's electrical activity like an EKG, and can deliver an electrical shock much like the paramedics would in an emergency situation," said Dr. Brian Deville an electrophysiologist at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano in Tex.

When a patient's heart stops beating, a warning is given. The device beeps and announces "do not touch patient." If the patient does not respond, the vest takes over.

"The shock is actually delivered to an electrode (on the front) and an electrode on the back," said Deville.

It allows patients to go home faster from the hospital, feeling safer about the distance from them and help. Alcala wore the LifeVest for six weeks and soon after that she was back to playing with her kids and dancing.

"Every moment I have with them now, I try to make the best of it," said Alcala.

Doctors are using the LifeVest for heart attack patients whose heart muscle function has decreased 35 to 60 percent. It does not prevent a heart attack, but it treats cardiac arrest.

BACKGROUND: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 630,000 people died of heart disease in 2006. It caused 26 percent of deaths, which is more than one in every four people, in this country. According to the American Heart Association, about 1.2 million Americans will have a heart attack this year. Up to 450,000 will experience a cardiac arrest, according to the National Institutes of Health.

WHAT IS A HEART ATTACK?: A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a section of heart muscle becomes blocked. If the flow of blood isn't restored quickly, the section of the heart muscle becomes damaged from lack of oxygen. This muscle begins to die. Treatment is most effective when started within one hour of the start of symptoms. Heart attacks occur most often as a result of a condition called coronary artery disease, where a fatty material called plaque builds up on the inside walls of the heart's arteries.

WHAT IS CARDIAC ARREST?: Cardiac arrest is the sudden loss of heart function. The patient may or may not have heart disease. Sudden death can occur within minutes after symptoms appear. The most common reason for patients to die suddenly from cardiac arrest is heart disease. However, other factors like respiratory arrest, electrocution, drowning, choking and trauma can cause cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest can also occur without any known cause.

LIFEVEST: Patients who survive a heart attack have a 12 percent increased risk for a sudden cardiac arrest during the first three months following the event. Now, a new vest is offering them protection. LifeVest is the world's first wearable defibrillator. It's worn outside the body rather than being implanted in the chest. The device weighs only three pounds and continuously monitors the patient's heart to detect life-threatening, abnormal heart rhythms. If a life-threatening rhythm is detected and the patient is unconscious, the device delivers an electrical shock to restore normal rhythm. This typically happens within one minute. The device is FDA-approved, and according to its manufacturers, it has a 98 percent "first shock" success rate in treating patients for sudden cardiac arrest without requiring bystander intervention.