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New non-invasive device saves hearts

April 13, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
More than 1.2 million Americans will have a heart attack this year. Up to 450,000 will experience cardiac arrest. This means if their heart stops beating, they could die within minutes. Now something that's as easy to wear as your clothing could help save your life. "My chest was caving in, and my arm was going numb," said Stacey Alcala.

Alcala had a heart attack, something she never thought would happen at age 29.

"I'm very active. Eat right, best I can. Exercise a lot," Alcala said.

But all of that did not stop her artery from tearing.

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

Alcala survived and was sent home from the hospital with one of the first wearable defibrillator. Heart attack survivors like her 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 electrophysiologist Dr. Brian DeVille.

When a patient's heart stops beating, a warning is given. If the patient does not respond, the LifeVest takes over.

"The shock is actually delivered through here and an electrode on the back," said Dr. DeVille.

It allows patients to go home faster from the hospital, feeling safer about the distance between them and help. Alcala wore the LifeVest for six weeks. 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," Alcala said.

The LifeVest is used in heart attack patients whose heart muscle function has decreased 35 to 60 percent. It can't prevent a heart attack, but it does treat a cardiac arrest.


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