By Kay Quinn, Healthbeat Reporter
St. Louis, MO (KSDK) -- Implantable defibrillators have saved the lives of countless people whose hearts go out of rhythm. But every year, there are thousands of patients who cannot use them.
Now there's a wearable vest that can send the same shock from the outside.
Here's a look at how it works.
Terry Turnquist's enlarged heart beats regularly thanks to an implantable defibrillator.
"I've had one for ten years, but they just replaced one because the battery life had expired and I got a staph infection so they had to remove it," Turnquist said.
During the six weeks Turnquist had to go without his defibrillator, doctors allowed him to leave the hospital as long as he wore a Zoll Life Vest. It can shock a patient's heart back into rhythm from outside the body.
"It's an extremely useful device and it's saved a lot of lives," said Dr. Preben Bjerregaard, a cardiologist at the V.A. Medical Center on North Grand in St. Louis.
It's worn under the clothes and sensors on the vest track every beat of a patient's heart. If an irregular rhythm is recorded, the vest goes into action, starting to shake and talk.
"It'll tell him that he's got a serious rhythm and its going to deliver a shock," said Dr. Bjerregaard. "And the reason it's spending all this time is to give the patient a chance to stop it, so he won't get the shock."
If the patient doesn't press a button, a shock is sent from two therapy pads on the back of the vest within a minute.
Over the past three years, 30,000 patients have worn the life vest, and 450 of them have been saved by it.
Turnquist is one of them. His went off twice in one week.
The first time, he was getting his blood drawn at the V.A. Hospital just days before he was to have his implantable defibrillator put back in. He does not remember a thing.
"I actually woke up and the thing was still talking and it said treatment has been delivered," said Turnquist. "And I thought, what treatment? And there were 6 or 8 people standing there looking at me in awe."
His heart had been shocked back into rhythm before the medical team could even start reviving him.
"I was very happy to have it, because I was able to go home instead of sit in the hospital for 6 to 8 weeks," he said.
The Life Vest even has gel that oozes out of the pads to help properly deliver the shock.
It's used on a variety of patients, including those who need radiation for lung cancer and cannot have a defibrillator, or those who have had a heart attack and are being evaluated for an implantable device.