Charles Williams, of Sigel, was told that his heart muscle wasn’t pumping as well as it should be. He was diagnosed with an unknown virus of the heart in March 2015.
He was at his appointment at DuBois Regional Cardiology Associates and was being seen by Stacey Smiley, a certified registered nurse practitioner. DRCA s a team of cardiologists, nurse practitioners and support staff who specialize in heart health. They partner with Penn Highlands Healthcare and see patients at Penn Highlands Brookville, Penn Highlands Clearfield, Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Elk.
This virus caused dilated cardiomyopathy. This disease might not have symptoms, but for some people it can be life-threatening.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a common cause of heart failure. With the heart’s inability to supply the body with enough blood, it can lead to irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias, blood clots or sudden death. Most common in men ages 20-60, anyone of any age, including infants and children, can be affected.
Williams was 63 at the time, and his first thought was that he may die. If something should happen, he lives a good distance from ambulance services and the hospital. He had “a grave concern and worry that due to my residence being in a rural area that I may expire before help could arrive,” he said.
To help, he was told about LifeVest. Had he ever heard of it before? “No,” he said. And neither have many other people.
LifeVest is a wearable defibrillator. A defibrillator is a small machine that issues electrical energy to the heart to re-establish rhythms. Many people are familiar with the paddles seen in emergency room scenes on TV shocking people back to life. Or they may know about the smaller version that gets put under the skin near the heart to shock it.
This LifeVest is the first wearable defibrillator. Unlike an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, the LifeVest is worn outside the body on, well, a vest.
This device continuously monitors the patient’s heart with dry, non-adhesive sensing electrodes to detect life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms.
If a life-threatening rhythm is detected, the device alerts the patient prior to delivering a treatment shock. The alert allows a conscious patient to delay the treatment shock. If the patient becomes unconscious, the device releases a Blue™ gel over the therapy electrodes and delivers an electrical shock to restore normal rhythm.
It is a treatment option for sudden cardiac arrest – when the heart beats too fast and out of rhythm –that offers patients advanced protection and monitoring as well as improved quality of life.
For Williams, the vest gave him peace of mind. “Being a former police veteran, I have seen the direct results of not responding in time and not having a defibrillator available. The LifeVest gave me complete confidence I would survive. Most importantly I was able to convey this to my one and only, Rose.”
“The LifeVest was a true blessing,” Rose Warnsing, his life partner, said. “The vest gave me an invaluable peace of mind. It also gave us a confidence that if Charlie had a serious issue the vest would give him the greatest chance of survival.” She hopes that more people learn about the vest.
Williams got his LifeVest because there were a multitude of unknown variables that made it the safest option.
“The LifeVest is prescribed for patients while we evaluate whether their heart function is going to improve and while optimizing their medical therapy,” Dr. Jay Ambrose, cardiologist with DuBois Regional Cardiology Associates, said. “For patients such as Charlie whose heart function did improve, he didn’t need an ICD. For others, it is a necessary protection and if the heart function doesn’t improve, they can go on to get an ICD. For most people in our rural area, it allows for immediate response and treatment when time is of the essence.”
The LifeVest is lightweight and easy to wear. It allows for common activities of daily life like work, shopping and moderate exercise, or in Williams’ case, playing jazz guitar, studying history and following baseball. “The only limitations the vest posed were the ability to mow my yard or engage in activities that would require power type tools,” Williams said.
The vest is really unnoticeable under clothing. Only a small battery pack is worn on a belt. It is worn all day and night comfortably, and it is only taken off during a shower or bath.
Williams said people didn’t really notice him wearing it, but he told others about it. “I felt it my duty to let others know about what was available to people who may face similar situations. They thought that this was a great technology that could greatly aid in rural settings where emergency help is often too late.”
Today, Williams and Rose are still enjoying rural life, and since last summer, he is no longer wearing his vest. Under the care of his physician, his heart function improved to the point that he was no longer at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.
“The Life Vest and all connected with this technology should be commended,” Williams said. He was thankful for the staff that helped him get the vest quickly and “I am truly grateful for all who are connected with this innovation. May God bless you and your families.”