When Helene Rish’s cardiologist told her that she had “non-ischemic cardiomyopathy,” she was shocked. The 38-year-old schoolteacher was admitted to the hospital for symptoms of pneumonia and never considered that she had a heart problem. But after several tests, doctors found that Helene’s ejection fraction was only 10-15%, putting her at high risk for sudden cardiac arrest. A normal “ejection fraction” – a measure of how efficiently the heart is pumping – is over 50%. To protect her before she could leave the hospital, Helene was prescribed with a LifeVest.
At that point, Helene had been in the hospital for eight days. “I just wanted to go home,” Helene commented. Her cardiac team recommended the LifeVest, which would allow Helene to leave the hospital knowing that she was protected from sudden cardiac arrest. She learned that the LifeVest would continuously monitor her heart, and if it detected a life-threatening heart rhythm, the device would deliver a treatment shock that could save her life. “When I put it on, it almost felt like a security blanket. It was my way to know that someone was watching me, that I wasn’t alone.”
Helene did return home to her husband and six-year-old daughter as physicians worked to adjust her medications to try to improve her heart function. Helene continued to wear the LifeVest continuously as instructed – only removing it to shower. As she explained, “You can’t afford to not wear the LifeVest. If you’re not going to do it for yourself, do it for your family. Do it for the people who love you.”
On a Monday morning about one month after receiving her LifeVest, Helene’s husband was at work and her daughter was at school. At home alone, Helene lay down to take a nap when she started to experience a headache and the room began to spin. Helene abruptly lost consciousness as she experienced a sudden cardiac arrest. “This happened to me in a split second. If I hadn’t had the LifeVest, it would have been too late.”
The LifeVest detected the life-threatening arrhythmia, and in less than one minute, it delivered a treatment shock that restored a normal heart rhythm and saved her life. The next thing Helene remembers is waking up to the alarms of her LifeVest. Other than being a bit shook up, she felt relatively normal. She took a breath, composed herself, called 911, and was then transported to the hospital, where she continued to wear the LifeVest. The next morning, she experienced a second sudden cardiac arrest and the LifeVest delivered a treatment shock to again restore a normal heart rhythm.
Since her treatments, Helene has received an implantable defibrillator for long-term protection from sudden cardiac arrest. Having the LifeVest helped Helene to understand the severity of her condition: “I knew for a very long time that I had a serious problem, but I didn’t know how serious. I never thought it would be my heart.” However, as a self-proclaimed “fighter,” Helene turned her situation around. She switched to a low sodium diet, became more active, and gradually regained her strength. Six months after having her life saved, Helene’s ejection fraction – previously measured at just 10-15% – improved to 50%.
“I feel really good today,” Helene commented. “The LifeVest is a life saver. You have to fight for your own life. You’ve got to choose to live, and I did.”