Medical Breakthrough: Life-Saving Vest

Friday, July 30th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

According to the American Heart Association, cardiac arrest kills at least 250,000 people in the U.S. each year. One cause is an abnormally fast heartbeat. Surgically implanted defibrillators, which shock the heart back to normal, are traditionally used to treat high-risk patients, such as those awaiting heart transplants. Now, there is an easier way.

A new device could save 35-year-old Eric Ricarfort's life. It's worn almost 24-hours a day, runs on batteries and is designed to detect and treat a rapid heartbeat that can be fatal. Eric is waiting for a heart transplant and is at high risk for cardiac arrest. He says, "It acts like a safety net or security blanket." Howard Eisen, M.D., a cardiologist at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, says, "We believe that this device may fill the gap, the safety gap, that exists with these patients."

If Eric's heart starts beating too fast, he won't have to wait for emergency workers to shock it back to a normal rhythm. The vest can do it. If sensors detect a life-threatening heartbeat, an alarm sounds. If the patient is alert, they can simply turn the device off. If they're unconscious, these pads shoot a gel onto the chest and back. A shock is then delivered. Dr. Eisen says, "If that's not successful, it'll shock them several more times until it detects a normal heart rhythm." The device has warned Eric several times that he was overexerting himself. "If it starts vibrating and sounding, I know either to stop what I'm doing or just sit down, maybe lay down and just take it easy," he says. He would rather wear a defibrillator than have one implanted in his chest, which is the traditional way. Right now the device is being tested on 70 patients awaiting heart transplants nationwide. It weighs about seven pounds. This is too heavy for some people, but a lighter version is being developed.

If you would like more information, please contact:
Terry Cianci
Transplant Research Coordinator
3401 N. Broad Street
Temple University
Suite 320 P.P.
Philadelphia, PA. 19140
(215) 707-4577