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New 'life vest' can save cardiac patients

December 26, 2008 12:00:00 AM 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. Using a defibrillator can be a lifesaver, but there's not always one within reach. But now, wearing a special vest could be a heart preserver.

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," said Benton. "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," said Dr. Debbie Rinde-Hoffman, cardiologist and medical director, cardiac transplant program, Tampa General Hospital.

While Benton waited for a heart transplant, his doctor prescribed a special 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," said Benton. "It sounds a siren. Then it tells everyone to get back, 'it's going to go off.' "

"I didn't even feel the shock," said Benton. "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," said Donna Benton, Thomas's wife. "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," said Dr. Rinde-Hoffman. "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.


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