Health Team

LifeVest helps heart disease sufferers when defibrillator won't do

Posted August 16, 2011 4:50 p.m. EDT
Updated August 17, 2011 10:39 a.m. EDT

— A new external defibrillator that is worn like a vest is helping to save the lives of heart disease sufferers, according to a Raleigh doctor who recommends it to many patients.

The Zoll LifeVest records a patient's normal heart rhythms so it can detect when they become abnormal, which interferes with blood flow. If that happens, the vest sends a shock to the heart to pulse it back to its normal beat.

Dr. Pavlo Netrebko, a cardiologist at WakeMed, said he recommends the vest to patients after a heart attack, bypass surgery or stent replacement and for those with cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure. He said the device is best used temporarily, at times when a permanent defibrillator can't be implanted into the body.

Richard Ellis, 80, who has a history of heart problems, wore the vest after his implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) had to be removed because it caused an infection. He said wearing the vest eased his mind because he knows first-hand how important a defibrillator can be.  

Several years ago, Ellis had a heart attack.

"All of a sudden, everything went black," he said. 

When he came to, his wife Jean was standing over him.

"He was on the floor. I told him not to move; I was calling 911," Jean Ellis said.

But his ICD delivered electric impulses to his heart, keeping him alive.

"Obviously the machine did the job because it saved my life," he said.

Heart disease, the leading cause of death in the nation, kills more than 600,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sudden cardiac death accounts for about half that number.