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Wednesday, October 4, 2023
Oct. 4, 2023

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Wearable defibrillator saves man’s life

High-tech vest made for patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest is a lifesaver

By , Columbian Health Reporter
4 Photos
Ray Tabor walks his dog Toby near PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center on Wednesday. Tabor spends more time walking Toby after an acute heart attack and a subsequent critical arrhythmia nearly killed him.
Ray Tabor walks his dog Toby near PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center on Wednesday. Tabor spends more time walking Toby after an acute heart attack and a subsequent critical arrhythmia nearly killed him. Tabor was wearing an external defibrillator called a LifeVest, which saved his life. Photo Gallery

Ray Tabor wasn’t too keen on wearing a contraption that, to him, resembled a woman’s bra. But at the urging of his doctor, Tabor relented.

Twenty-three hours later, that vest saved his life.

“I give thanks every day,” Tabor said.

“I pray to God every day now,” he added, “something I never did.”

The lifesaving device is called a LifeVest, a wearable defibrillator for patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. The LifeVest is used while physicians assess and determine a patient’s long-term risk for arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest.

The vest is worn under the clothing and has electrodes on straps in the front and back. A monitor worn from a shoulder strap continuously monitors the patient’s heart. When the vest detects a life-threatening heart rhythm, it delivers a treatment shock to restore normal heart rhythm.

The device doesn’t require any bystander intervention, which, in Tabor’s case, was a good thing. Tabor was alone — except for his sidekick, Toby, a Jack Russell terrier/Chihuahua mix — when a critical arrhythmia threatened his life.

“It packs a punch,” Tabor said of the vest.

Heart history

Tabor, 53, has spent the last 25 years working as a cross-country truck driver, living out of his truck much of that time. He had some time off and decided to visit his daughter in La Center.

On Oct. 28, as Tabor was preparing to hit the road again, he started feeling strange. His back had been bothering him for a couple of weeks — discomfort he attributed to a pulled muscle — but he could tell something wasn’t right.

Tabor’s daughter drove him to the hospital. He started to faint as he walked into the emergency department. Physicians determined Tabor was having an acute heart attack.

Tabor was transported to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and rushed into surgery to have a stent placed in an artery that was 99 percent blocked. An echocardiogram revealed damage to the lower left part of Tabor’s heart. Tabor’s doctors suspect that pulled muscle a few weeks earlier was actually another heart attack.

“He fit into a category of patients very susceptible to arrhythmia,” said James Mathey, a physician assistant with specialty in electrophysiology at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

When a patient experiences an acute heart attack and their heart is pumping blood weakly — as was the case with Tabor — they are at risk for arrhythmia, Mathey said. But standard practice is to wait three months to give the heart time to improve its pumping ability before taking additional action, he said.

After three months, if the heart has not improved, surgeons can implant an internal defibrillator. In the interim, however, patients are at risk for arrhythmia, Mathey said.

That’s where the LifeVest comes into play.

‘It saved my life’

At Mathey’s urging, Tabor agreed to wear the vest.

The next day, Tabor changed the battery in the monitor and walked into the living room of his daughter’s house. He sat down on the couch, Toby beside him, and turned his attention to the TV.

“The next thing I remember, I’m waking up and there’s sweat dripping from my hair,” Tabor said.

He was disoriented, unsure what had happened. A voice coming from the monitor was barking orders to Tabor: Push the button to confirm consciousness; seek immediate medical care.

Paramedics rushed Tabor back to PeaceHealth Southwest. The next day, he had a defibrillator and pacemaker implanted. In the three days that followed, Tabor’s internal defibrillator shocked him more than 20 times as the arrhythmias continued.

Now, Tabor’s arrhythmia is controlled by medication. Tabor has also taken steps to improve his health. He quit smoking, spends more time walking Toby and has incorporated more fish and salad into his diet. He’s lost 20 pounds since his heart attack.

“This was a big wake-up call — fortunately and unfortunately,” said Dr. Margo Kozinski, Tabor’s cardiologist at PeaceHealth Southwest. Given his history, and the recent damage to his heart, Kozinski wasn’t surprised the LifeVest needed to administer a shock to Tabor.

Tabor’s future as a truck driver is uncertain. That depends on whether he gets clearance from the Department of Transportation to resume driving. But once he gets cleared by his cardiologist, Tabor plans to head to Cooper, Texas, where he has friends.

“I was bound and determined to die before it happened, but she saved my life,” Tabor said of Kozinski. “It saved my life.”

Columbian Health Reporter