"It felt like an alien coming out of my chest," says Cheryl Hay.
As painful as it was, that heart attack was just the first for Cheryl Hay. Six days later, a second heart attack sent her into emergency heart surgery. If it had happened at her home and not the hospital, Cheryl would probably be dead.
So now, cardiac specialists at UCSF are trying to learn whether high risk patients like Cheryl should be wearing something home when they leave the hospital like a vest containing an emergency defibrillator – one that can sense an abnormal heart rhythm and deliver a jolt in the event of heart attack.
Cardiologist Jeffery Olgin is heading up the study. He says that the data now shows that after being released from a critical care unit, some heart attack patients can remain vulnerable for far longer than previously believed.
"The risk doesn't go away after two months, it continues to be present to various levels, depending on a lot of factors we don't understand yet. This is a way to send them home with a CCU," says Dr. Olgin.
The key is the automatic response. In earlier studies, researchers sent at-risk patients home with traditional defibrillators that would need to be applied by a nurse or family member. But they found survival rates didn't improve
The vests are also outfitted with heart monitoring recorders that will give researchers new insight into which cardiac patients are at extended risk, and if the results are positive, the defibrillator vests could become standard issue.
If a patient is identified as being at extremely high risk, doctors also have the option of replacing the vest with a surgically implanted defibrillator to help regulate heart function.