By Lisa Sutherland–
Last September, at age 52, I married the love of my life. Craig and I were surrounded by our kids and our grandkids when we said “I do,” but I almost didn’t make it there. A few years earlier, I suffered a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), meaning my heart abruptly spiked into a rapid, life-threatening heartbeat. SCA claims 350,000 lives every year, but many don’t know what SCA is. My story is one of hope for heart patients. I survived because my doctor recommended I use a wearable defibrillator called “LifeVest.”
Just before my 50th birthday, I was diagnosed with heart failure. Looking back, I remember having some difficulty breathing at times, which is a symptom of the disease, but I never thought it was my heart. Heart failure occurs when the heart is weakened and cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for oxygen. It’s a chronic heart disease, but with medical therapy, one can live a full life.
My case was more serious because my ejection fraction (EF) – a measure of how well your heart pumps – had dropped below 35%. A normal EF is 55-70%. My doctor explained to me that my low EF put me at risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). SCA occurs when the heart’s electrical system fails, triggering a dangerously fast heartbeat. It occurs without warning, and without treatment, a person experiencing SCA is likely to die within minutes.
As my doctor explained all this, thoughts rushed through my head. My kids still needed their mom. I had a new granddaughter. I wasn’t ready to die. After grappling with my diagnosis, I made a decision that saved my life: I was going to fight. I decided I was going to take advantage of every tool that could help me through my journey of getting stronger. I had new medications, a new diet, and a new cardiac rehab program. To protect me from SCA, my doctor also asked if I would consider a wearable defibrillator called the LifeVest.
I had never heard of LifeVest before, but after a quick education, I said yes. LifeVest is vest-like garment you wear under your clothes around-the-clock, except for when you shower. It has sensors that monitor your heart, and if you experience SCA, LifeVest can automatically deliver a shock to save your life.
This was a challenging time, but LifeVest gave me hope. I was still adjusting to my new reality, but LifeVest allowed me to go home and be with my family at a time when I needed them most. It provided some needed security and normalcy.
Eight days later, I was reading through holiday cards at the kitchen counter with my mother and son when I experienced my sudden cardiac arrest. It was truly “sudden” – all I remember is a rush to my head. Without warning, I lost consciousness and collapsed to the floor. My heart was beating so fast and erratic that it couldn’t pump enough blood through my body to sustain me. I was minutes from dying, but I was wearing the LifeVest. LifeVest detected the dangerous heartbeat and delivered a treatment shock that restored my normal heart rhythm and saved my life.
I came to shortly after, and my family was there beside me. I went back to the hospital, and my doctors recommended I get an implantable defibrillator, which would provide long-term protection from sudden cardiac arrest. My condition has stabilized, and my doctors have now told me I can expect to live a normal life.
We’re never promised tomorrow, and this experience has made that clear to my family. Everything is a little more special for us: my granddaughter’s first steps, my youngest child’s graduation, my middle child’s decision to become a nurse, and my relationship with Craig. Craig and I knew each other before my heart issues surfaced, but going through this together helped us realize that we don’t want to spend another day apart for the rest of our lives.
After 50, we all need to be more aware of our heart health. Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the U.S., and much of this is due to SCA. I hope you never go through what I did, but if you do, rest assured there is help. If your doctor asks you about LifeVest, say yes. And wear it every day. It can save your life.
I firmly believe more lives can be saved if we choose to be active participants in our health. I chose to fight – and I’m living proof that it was worth it.