New device warns patients of heart attack hours before it happens

Posted at 11:04 PM, Aug 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-27 23:04:43-04

Phoenix, AZ - It's smaller than a pack of playing cards, but a new medical device being tested in Arizona could give you hours of notice before you have a heart attack.

"We insert it under the skin," explained Dr. Andrew Kaplan with Banner Heart Hospital.

The device is called the Fortify VR, and it's a small defibrillator that is implanted in the patient's chest. But it does more than just shock a heart during an irregular heartbeat. The defibrillator also has a vibratory alarm that will warn people if it thinks they are likely to have a heart attack, sometimes hours before it even happens.

"It will actually vibrate in the chest. When the patient is having a problem with blood flow, they feel the vibration and they automatically know that is a sign to go to the hospital," said Kaplan.

Joe Coia, 60, is one of the participants in the study. He decided to try out the device after having a heart attack a few months ago.

"It was a Friday afternoon. I came in the house and I was hot. The moment I sat down, my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest," he recalled.

His wife rushed him to the hospital, and after surviving the episode, doctors told him he'd be a great candidate for the study.

The defibrillator even wirelessly communicates with a receiver near the participant's bed. It uploads information to the receiver, which then sends it to the hospital. If a patient is having a heart attack, the idea is doctors will be ready for the patient's arrival, armed with the exact nature of what's wrong.

"We can see the signals the patient is having and then be prepared for them when they come to the hospital," said Kaplan.

The goal is to give those likely to have a heart attack more time for doctors to fix what's wrong.

"It's like having a team of doctors walking around with you all the time," said Coia.

Officials from Banner Heart Hospital say the trial has been extremely successful. Right now the device is only being used in patients that have had heart attacks, but the plan is to offer it to those who may be prone to heart disease.