Wearable LifeVest defibrillator saves local nurse from sudden cardiac death

Image of doctor holding medical device
Denice Hodgson-Zingman, MD, UI Heart and Vascular Center electrophysiologist holding the ZOLL LifeVest wearable defibrillator

An external device delivered a treatment shock after sudden cardiac arrest

Annamarie Fracaro, Licensed Practical Nurse from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, is used to taking care of patients with heart problems. However she never expected to be the one needing serious medical help.

When Annamarie suddenly became ill, having difficulty breathing and minor chest pain, doctors determined she had a severe upper respiratory infection.

But her problems didn’t end there.

The viral infection worsened and Annamarie developed dilated cardiomyopathy—a disease in which the heart muscle weakens, becomes enlarged, and can no longer effectively pump blood to the rest of the body.

The exact cause of dilated cardiomyopathy is not always immediately identifiable, however viral infections like Annamarie’s have been recognized as a common cause.

If left untreated, dilated cardiomyopathy can lead to severe heart rhythm problems and heart failure.

In Annamarie’s case, her cardiologist was concerned about her risk for sudden cardiac death, which is an unexpected death caused by the abrupt onset of a chaotic heart rhythm causing the heart to be unable to pump blood.

In order to protect Annamarie until a decision was reached to implant a permanent defibrillator to regulate her heart rhythm, Alex Mazur, MD, UI Heart and Vascular Center electrophysiologist, prescribed the ZOLL LifeVest.

The LifeVest is the first ever, wearable defibrillator worn outside the body rather than implanted in the chest like an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).

There are two components to the LifeVest—the vest itself, which has electrodes to sense the heart rhythm and deliver treatment shocks, and a module worn around the waist or from a shoulder strap, that continuously monitors a patient’s heart and records any abnormal rhythms. If a life-threatening heart rhythm is detected, the device delivers a treatment shock to restore a normal heart rhythm just as an ICD would.

Annamarie was instructed to wear the device under her clothes 24/7 so it could monitor her heart around the clock.

Denice Hodgson-Zingman, MD, UI Heart and Vascular Center electrophysiologist, says the LifeVest is a great way for patients to continue on with their daily routine, and be protected against sudden death while doctors try to determine if an ICD is the best option.

“We don’t want to subject [patients] to an implanted medical device that they may not need,” Dr. Hodgson-Zingman says. “A number of patients wear the LifeVest for a period of time, and don’t go on to have an ICD.”

Dr. Hodgson-Zingman says the LifeVest most importantly saves lives. However it also gives patients with major heart problems peace of mind.

“When patients at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics go home they don’t have to worry, and their family members don’t have to worry as much as they would without the LifeVest. It’s around the clock protection,” Dr. Hodgson-Zingman says.

Less than two months later, in March 2016, the LifeVest saved Annamarie’s life.

Annamarie was in the parking lot at work when she suddenly didn’t feel right. She got out, leaned her head up against her car and the next thing she knew she was laying on the ground looking at the sky.

Annamarie suffered from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), which caused her to lose consciousness.

SCA is a condition commonly triggered by cardiomyopathy. It can cause death in minutes, and claims more than 350,000 lives every year in the United States.

Luckily for Annamarie her LifeVest detected the life-threatening arrhythmia and delivered a treatment shock to restore her normal heart rhythm.

“I was nervous about wearing the vest, but if I hadn’t had it on I would have died,” Annamarie says.

Soon after her LifeVest delivered the shock, Annamarie regained consciousness and was able to walk back into work and get help.

An ambulance brought Annamarie to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics for follow-up treatment, and two days later Dr. Hodgson-Zingman decided that an ICD was the best option to protect Annemarie long-term against sudden cardiac death.

Annemarie expresses gratitude for the care she received at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. She also hopes that by sharing her story she can help others who have similar conditions.

“University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics has provided me with an amazing experience…I’m so thankful for what this hospital has done and that I live so close and was able to receive the care I needed here.”

To learn more about cardiomyopathy, or to schedule an appointment at the UI Heart and Vascular Center, visit uihc.org/congestiveheartfailure or call 319-356-1028.

Mt. Pleasant