LifeVest saves man after sudden cardiac arrest

Expert believes device is being underutilized in patients at risk

WARREN, Mich. – Paul Piasecki, 67, of Detroit, didn't realize he was having a heart attack.

"I was feeling pain in my right shoulder, and I actually felt it probably more than a week before I decided to go to the hospital because I always heard that it's the left shoulder, if you felt pain in, that was a heart attack."

When he did eventually go to the emergency room, doctors at Ascension Macomb-Oakland found Piasecki was in fact having a heart attack.

He spent three days in the hospital and was then released.   But just a week later, things took another life-threatening turn.

"My son was visiting for my birthday," said Piasecki.  "And all of a sudden, I felt myself slipping away."

Piasecki's wife, Debbie, was in the kitchen.

"All of a sudden, I hear my son say, 'Dad?  Dad? Are you OK, Dad?'" said Debbie Piasecki.

Paul Piasecki wasn't OK.  His wife and son watched as he went into cardiac arrest.

They called 911, but they didn't have to wait for help to arrive because Piasecki was wearing a medical device called a LifeVest.   

"The first shock got his heart started again," said Debbie Piasecki.  "But then we found out later that he had gotten a second, smaller shock."

"I was waking up and everyone is around me and the fire department is coming down the street," said Paul Piasecki.  "It's like having a paramedic with you, the best paramedic."

When it comes to sudden cardiac arrest, every minute counts.

"Every one minute, the chance of survival goes down by 10 percent," explained Dr. Sohail Hassan, director of cardiac electrophysiology at Ascension Macomb-Oakland.  "In Paul's case, the pipe to the front of the heart was completely blocked."

The LifeVest is a wearable defibrillator that can be worn by patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest or dangerous heart rhythms.   It such a problem is detected, the LifeVest can deliver an electrical shock to the heart.  

Hassan said the LifeVest offers a clear advantage for certain patients.

"AEDs are passive.  Somebody has to put them on the patient's body for them to work.  These devices monitor you on their own and provide an appropriate shock to save life in the setting of dangerous heart rhythm," said Hassan.

The LifeVest is often used in patients going through an evaluation to receive an implanted defibrillator.   It's worn directly against the patient's skin under their clothing.  It also has a battery pack that is carried in a separate bag.

The technology is not new.

"This device has been around for a good 16 years," explained Hassan.

But Hassan believes it's being underutilized.

"If they are in the situation of a weak heart or have had a recent heart attack, the patient should be educated about the availability of these devices," said Hassan.

Paul Piasecki now has a pacemaker and is doing great.   Debbie Piasecki was so grateful for the LifeVest, she says she didn't want to give it back until the last possible moment.

The couple is now eating healthier, exercising and appreciating each day together.   They want everyone to know about the lifesaving LifeVest.

"I'm so glad I was wearing it.  I wouldn't be here today," said Paul Piasecki.  "Another birthday is going to come, you know, it's things like that you don't think about until it doesn't almost happen."

"Today is today, and we are looking forward to tomorrow," said Debbie Piasecki.  "Because there will be a tomorrow."