LifeVest saves heart patient

The contents of the Zoll LifeVest, shown above, recently saved the life of a heart patient in Camilla.

The contents of the Zoll LifeVest, shown above, recently saved the life of a heart patient in Camilla.

CAMILLA, Ga. — It’s interesting how a simple action can be a matter of life and death.

Richard Shiver, 55, learned that earlier this year when a Zoll LifeVest shocked his heart back into rhythm just outside of his home in Camilla.

At first, he was hesitant to even wear the vest at all.

“I felt like I could pick up a truck, but the tests showed different,” Shiver said.

He was told to wear the vest because he needed an internal defibrillator but was not able to get one right away due to a knee infection that first needed to be cleared up.

The vest is fitted with pads on the front and back that act as external defibrillators and are worn beneath the clothing on straps that go over the shoulders and chest, allowing the vest to continually monitor the patient’s heart rhythm.

If a patient’s rhythm is compromised, the vest shocks him or her.

“(Initially) I felt anger because I felt good,” Shiver said. “I decided that I felt like I didn’t need it. But in the end, thinking of my family, I decided to wear it.”

The LifeVest was something that was bothersome for him to wear, and Shiver said he continued to experience anger and depression as a result of his situation.

Generally, he would wear the vest to work and then take it off for a few hours after getting home. Often, he admitted, it did not get back on him at all until the next morning.

“It would bother me while I was asleep,” Shiver said.

One day, before he made it back into his house to take the vest off, Shiver decided to instead install a padlock on his barn door.

“This was at 5:17 p.m., when I normally would not have it on,” Shiver said. “The siren on the vest went off, and I tried to turn if off three times.”

After that third attempt, he woke up roughly three minutes later, gasping for air to the sound of a command telling him to contact a doctor.

As it turned out, he had nearly flatlined — resulting in the vest shocking him. He never felt the shock and, until he saw the electrocardiogram printout, nobody was able to convince him what had happened.

“When the ambulance got there, I still didn’t believe I had been shocked,” he said. “It saved my life, no question. I would not be alive today if I didn’t have it on.”

The first person Shiver called after waking up was his sister, who is a nurse at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany. He then called his brother-in-law, a paramedic from Dougherty County.

After moving his truck, he dialed 911.

The recovery time from the incident was relatively quick. He got over the stress of the situation in a few hours.

“It happened on a Tuesday, and was I back at work the following Monday,” Shiver said.

Shiver, who has been a patient of Cardiology Associates for 15 years, eventually did get the internal defibrillator put in last week.

“Technology is a wonderful thing,” he said. “I felt like nothing was wrong with me, but that wasn’t the case.

“I’ve been coming here 15 years and have not always been the best patient. But whatever I’m able to experience from this point on, I’m grateful for.”

Shiver said he is, in fact, so grateful to still be alive that he has overcome the habit of taking the LifeVest off.

“After that happened, I would not take it off,” he said. “I didn’t take if off for any reason unless I was getting into the shower. As soon as I got out of the shower, I put it back on.”

Shiver, who has a family history of heart problems, did not feel any pain as his heart was about to stop — which is why he encourages any other patient to wear the vest if it’s recommended for them, even if they believe it is not necessary.

“It will work; it will save your life,” Shiver said. “It saved mine.”

Shiver became a patient at Cardiology Associates after having a heart attack. He’s had several operations over the last two years.

“I have moments of depression and anger because I can’t do the things I used to, but I think about my family,” Shiver said.

The LifeVest shocks the patient in the front and back. Along with the straps to hold the pads in place, there is a pack worn on the outside containing patient response controls. There is a soft tone that goes off in the event one of the pads comes loose.

It is used for a wide range of patient conditions that puts a person at risk, including a recent heart attack, before or after bypass surgery or stent placement, as well as for those with cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure.