Medical Vest Saves Man's Life

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Meeting Clifford Dorn, you never would know just how close he was to death's door.

An admitted adrenaline junkie, Clifford said his days skydiving, bungee jumping, and weight lifting never prepared him for the shock he received from a medical tech he visited after feeling ill a few months ago.

"Mr. Dorn, you're having a heart attack right now," Clifford recalled the doctor telling him. "And I said, 'No. No, I'm not. I'm talking to you. I felt nothing.' A couple of days later my doctor told me you were having a massive heart attack."

Clifford had an angioplasty and spent four days at Penrose St. Francis Medical Center. His doctor planned to operate when he was strong enough, but until then sent him home with this life vest, a wearable defibrillator, which continually monitored his heart.

That very night while Clifford was asleep, he suffered sudden cardiac arrest. The life vest's sensors detected the irregular heart rhythm and its electrodes shocked his heart back into a regular rhythm.

Clifford explains, "Still in denial, I was thinking the thing went off by accident you know, when actually it kick started my heart three times in the middle of the night. The doctor said, 'You know, Cliff, if you hadn't put that vest on we wouldn't be even talking right now. Your family would be planning your funeral because this thing saved your life.'"

Dr. Sunil Nath says, "I think this really has been a major advance in cardiology so we can let these patients go home rather than keep them in the hospital."

Dr. Nath, part of the Penrose St. Francis cardiac team, says the life vest isn't new technology, but they're using it more on patients at high risk for dangerous heart rhythms.

He adds, "These are patients who have had a large heart attack for instance or a viral infection of their heart that has led to weakening of their heart muscle."

He says the temporary device can be worn up to two to three months while a patient's heart muscle function is being evaluated.

In Clifford's case, he later underwent a double bypass and a permanent defibrillator was placed in his chest.

Clifford says, "I was thankful. I was appreciative, and I want everybody to know that you know something, they send you home with something like that, put it on because it will save you. It saved me."

Dr. Nath says the technology behind the life vest is similar to the automated external defibrillators that are kept at shopping malls, airports and sporting events.