Riverside Patient Bill Ayers thwarted life-threatening cardiac arrest with new wearable technology

On New Year's Eve, 64-year-old Hampton resident Bill Ayers recently suffered sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) –three times. But Ayers was saved because he had been prescribed a wearable defibrillator called the "LifeVest." Riverside Health System cardiologists prescribe this novel technology to protect heart patients at high risk for sudden cardiac death.

Five days earlier, Bill had suffered a heart attack, which damaged his heart muscle and severely weakened his heart's ability to function. Dr. Edward Chu, an interventional cardiologist at Riverside Regional Medical Center, was concerned that Bill was at higher than usual risk for an abnormal heart rhythm. Rather than leave him unprotected outside of the hospital, Dr. Chu prescribed Bill with the LifeVest wearable defibrillator. The LifeVest is worn around the clock, under clothing, with a small cardiac monitor attached at hip level.

"This wearable technology doesn't interfere with daily activities and lets patients be discharged safely, with an external defibrillator that can detect and treat a life-threatening arrhythmia," said Dr. Chu.

More than 50 patients of Dr. Chu and his partners are using the LifeVest, a practical way to have patients at risk for a number of heart conditions continuously monitored, and protected while assessing their long term or permanent sudden cardiac arrest risk.  In case of life-threatening heart rhythms, the LifeVest can accurately identify and treat the abnormal heart rhythm immediately.

"This ensures that patients at risk can be treated very quickly –in matters of the heart, time is essential," said Dr. Chu.

Ayers was instructed to wear the device under his clothes so that it could monitor his heart around the clock, and take action if he experienced an issue. Sudden cardiac death claims the lives of 350,000 Americans each year, but the device automatically detected Ayers' sudden cardiac arrest each time and delivered multiple treatment shocks that saved his life.

He returned home to recover and on New Year's Eve, Bill was surrounded by his family visiting for the holiday. As they began to gather together for dinner, he started to feel uneasy and called for his oldest son to help him into a nearby chair. 

Moments later, Bill suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. His heart spiked into a dangerously rapid rhythm, in which the heart beats so fast that it quivers or shakes instead of pumping oxygen-rich blood to the body and brain. Nearly 95 percent of SCA victims die before they can reach some form of emergency help, but Bill survived. His LifeVest detected the life-threatening arrhythmia and delivered a treatment shock that restored his normal heart rhythm and saved his life. 

After the first treatment, Bill's son called 911. Bill experienced a second SCA before the paramedics arrived and a third as he was being transferred to the ambulance. In both cases, he received a life-saving treatment from the LifeVest. He was taken to the hospital and later received an implantable defibrillator for long-term protection. 

"Thank you very much," Bill commented in gratitude to Dr. Chu. "You saved my life." 

Dr. Chu said that in the past decade, a number of improvements to cardiac care have made chances of survival much higher, and that he and his peers continue to provide the highest level of care possible for their patients as part of the Riverside Care Difference. Prior to this wearable technology, we depended on medications (that had varying levels of proven effectiveness and side effects), monitoring devices that could not treat the patient, and external defibrillators that had to be brought to the patient by paramedics.

"Knowing that a sudden cardiac arrest could occur is a terrible stress for patients, right at a time when more stress is the last thing they need. I'm glad to have options to increase their ability to go home and recover, while ensuring that they are safely monitored," Dr. Chu said. "At Riverside, we see our patients throughout their continuum of care, and understand that our patients need partners who can see past episodes of inpatient or procedure related events.

"He is now back at home. Ayers' oldest son is getting married in October and the family is grateful that his live was saved so that he can look forward to celebrating milestones with his family.

Facts about LifeVest: 

  • The LifeVest is the first wearable defibrillator. Unlike an implanted defibrillator the LifeVest is worn outside the body rather than implanted in the chest. It requires no bystander intervention.  
  • The LifeVest continuously monitors the patient's heart and, if a life-threatening heart rhythm is detected, the device delivers a treatment shock to restore normal heart rhythm. The device alerts the patient prior to delivering a treatment shock, and thus allows a conscious patient to delay treatment.  
  • The LifeVest is used for a wide range of patient conditions, including following a heart attack, before or after bypass surgery or stent placement, as well as cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure, that place patients at particular risk. 

LifeVests are available for photo or video.

Published: March 4, 2015