Ind. man discovers wearable defibrillator like a personal medic
By David Rumbach
South Bend Tribune (Indiana)
Copyright 2007 South Bend Tribune Corporation
All Rights Reserved
LAKEVILLE, Ind. — Terry Newton was alone in his Lakeville home three weeks ago when the heart attack hit.
But fortunately he was able to call for an ambulance minutes before his heart stopped and he slipped into unconsciousness.
Paramedics shocked him back to life en route to the hospital.
The next time he might not be so lucky. But he won't have to be.
Newton, of Lakeville, is wearing a special vest that incorporates a heart monitor and a defibrillator.
If he goes into cardiac arrest again, the monitor will recognize the problem and automatically deliver a shock in hopes of restarting his heart.
The technology is essentially the same used in the automated external defibrillator units widely available in airports, stadiums and other places.
"We think of it as a life insurance policy we hope we'll never need," his wife, Lissa, said.
Dr. Sachin Patel, Newton's cardiologist, said he believes this is the first time a wearable defibrillator has been prescribed by doctors in South Bend.
It's a temporary safety measure for Newton until he can have a much smaller internal defibrillator/pacemaker surgically implanted in his chest and wired directly to his heart. Newton, 58, won't be ready for the implant operation for several weeks.
"Until then, he'll wear this 24 hours a day," Patel said. "It's like having a paramedic holding paddles on him all the time."
Use of the vest, made by a Pittsburgh-based company called LifeCor, costs about $3,000 per month, which is covered by the Newtons' insurance.
Doctors can't implant Newton's permanent internal defibrillator right away because the clot that caused his heart attack and led to his cardiac arrest is still stuck in an artery on the front of his heart.
Patel said there's a risk that the implant surgery and start-up procedure, which involves shocking the heart, might dislodge the clot. And that might allow it to travel downstream to another coronary artery, causing another heart attack, or to his brain, causing a stroke.
Newton is taking a blood thinner and waiting for the clot to safely dissolve before he can have the implant surgery.
Patel said wearable defibrillators are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for people at high risk of cardiac arrest who can't have immediate implant surgery. That also includes people recovering from infections.
Representatives of LifeCor will provide them to qualifying patients at any area hospital within 24 hours, he said.
"You don't have to be at a big hospital to use one of these," he said.
Newton said he wears his defibrillator all the time except when he's showering. It consists of a band and shoulder straps that hold defibrillator pads and electronic sensors against his skin on his chest and back.
He jokingly calls it his "manssiere," a reference to the brassiere for men invented by the character Kramer in "Seinfeld."
"I'm a huge 'Seinfeld' fan," Newton said.
A unit containing the battery pack and heart monitor hangs in a holster at his side. It gives off a gong sound if the sensors shift out of place.
When the monitor detects cardiac arrest, it sounds a loud alarm, Newton said. Unless Newton stops it by holding in two buttons on the control unit, it will deliver a powerful jolt to his chest.
Four days before his heart attack, Newton had gone to his primary care doctor with a case of bronchitis. The doctor discovered an arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation and made an appointment for him to see Patel for the following week.
The physician, Dr. Mark Sandock, also advised him to call an ambulance if he felt anything "at all out of the ordinary."
That advice proved to be a lifesaver for him on the following Saturday, Feb. 24, when Newton happened to be home alone.
He called for an ambulance when he suddenly started sweating profusely. He did not have the classic heart attack symptoms of chest pain or pain radiating down his arm.
"I remembered what (Dr. Mark) Sandock told me, 'Anything at all,' " he recalled.
Newton remembers being put in the ambulance and heading down the road. But then his heart went into arrest and he was out cold. Paramedics had to shock him back to life twice on the way to Memorial Hospital.
"The next thing I remember is being in the hospital," he said.
If not for the wearable defibrillator, Newton would have simply been sent home "with his fingers crossed" hoping that cardiac arrest would not occur again, Patel said.
The chances are his temporary defibrillator will not be needed. On average, implanted defibrillators go off only once every 10 years, Patel said.
But the vest provides some insurance for Newton, who's beaten the odds once already.