LifeVest is a Life-Saver for County Resident
In 2015, Katrinia Brunson realized something was wrong. She was suddenly tired all the time, regardless of the amount of sleep she obtained. She would experience dizzy spells where she felt like she was about to pass out. She had an unexplained weight gain and her legs would swell. It got to the point where she could no longer tend to the 15 head of cattle on her family’s 17 acres just outside of Romayor, Texas, the tiny town just north of Houston where she had spent almost all of her life. She was only 43 years old.
Eventually, Ms. Brunson could not even muster the energy to clean her home, in which she has always taken immense pride. “I always kept it nice and neat.” So in January 2018, Ms. Brunson checked herself into Texas Emergency Hospital in Cleveland, Texas. There, cardiologist Jeffrey A. Klem, M.D., gave Ms. Brunson some unsettling news. Her problems stemmed from Class IV congestive heart failure. Her heart was pumping blood at less than 20-percent of the normal rate. At any moment, she could suffer sudden cardiac arrest. She could die.
Fortunately, Dr. Klem told her, there was a solution. It is called the ZOLL LifeVest, which is exactly what it sounds like—a battery-powered wearable defibrillator built into a lightweight vest for patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. It is worn beneath the clothes, directly against the skin at all times (except for bathing). The device continuously monitors the patient’s heart rhythm, and when it detects a rapid, life-threatening rhythm, it quickly releases blue gel lubricant and then issues an electric shock to get the heart rhythm back on track.
Ms. Brunson was skeptical. After all, she was a strong country girl, a farmer. She wondered if she could tough it out on her own. Dr. Klem stressed the importance of accepting the LifeVest right away. Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death following a new heart failure diagnosis. But, Ms. Brunson needed time to work through her diagnosis and treatment options. And without insurance, Ms. Brunson was also concerned about the cost of the LifeVest. So she went home.
During this time of contemplation, Ms. Brunson injured her leg on her farm equipment and the wound was not healing. She decided she probably needed to have some medical attention on her leg plus her Class IV congestive heart failure symptoms had worsened. Dr. Klem explained the healing was inhibited by poor circulation due to the congestive heart failure. He reminded her that her heart’s impaired function put her at risk of sudden cardiac arrest and implored her to try the LifeVest. Desperate, Ms. Brunson agreed.
Knowing that Ms. Brunson did not have insurance and that she was concerned about the cost of the LifeVest, Dr. Klem requested payment options for Ms. Brunson. Dr. Klem knew that the LifeVest would save Katrinia’s life if she had a sudden cardiac arrest. Ms. Brunson agreed with the pricing and actually sold a few of her cows to help with the payment.
Shortly thereafter, she was fitted with her very own LifeVest. “The vest wasn’t uncomfortable at all,” she says.
Four days after she received the LifeVest, Ms. Brunson was at home on the couch. She suddenly felt dizzy and lost consciousness. The next thing she knew, she was covered in blue gel and the LifeVest was speaking to her: “TREATMENT HAS BEEN GIVEN. CALL YOUR DOCTOR.”
She immediately went to the hospital, where the doctor informed her that the device had detected a life-threatening rhythm and shocked her back to life within 60 seconds. The LifeVest saved her life.
Ms. Brunson was fitted with a new LifeVest. And again, about one month after the second fitting, she received another treatment from the LifeVest. And again, it spoke “TREATMENT HAS BEEN GIVEN. CALL YOUR DOCTOR.”
The two events were enough to convince Ms. Brunson that she needed long-term protection from sudden cardiac arrest. She returned to the hospital, this time to the operating room, where she received a permanent implantable defibrillator. She says that she clung to her LifeVest all the way to the operating table. “I told the doctors, ‘It can save me before you can get to me.’”
Dr. Klem agrees. “Without the protection of the LifeVest,” says Dr. Klem, “she certainly would not be alive today.”
Under the care of her doctor at Texas Emergency Hospital, Ms. Brunson’s health has improved. Ms. Brunson is active and working on her family’s farm, tending to her cattle. She’s able to drive the tractor and even push-mow her lawn.
“I’m so grateful for the care I received from Dr. Klem and all the staff at Texas Emergency Hospital. I am blessed that I was able to get and wear the LifeVest,” she says, sitting in a chair in her freshly mowed lawn. “It saved my life.”