Billy Rayburn was finishing his morning routine when he received the shock of his life. The 79-year-old Harriman man had been released three days earlier from Methodist Medical Center for treatment of a heart attack he had while suffering from pneumonia. A heart catheterization showed no blockages, but because his heart was weak and needed time to heal, Rayburn’s physician, board-certified and fellowship-trained interventional cardiologist Milan Sheth, DO, prescribed medicines and a wearable defibrillator vest.
Defibrillator vests were approved by the US Food & Drug Administration 15 years ago. The device features an electrode belt and garment that surround the patient’s chest, and a monitor that is worn around the waist. When the wearer goes into a dangerous heart rhythm such as ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation, the device jumpstarts the heart’s electrical rhythm.
Billy was wearing the vest when he collapsed in his bathroom and went into cardiac arrest. That’s when 150 Joules of electricity ripped through Billy’s heart. “The next thing I knew the emergency people had me on our couch working on me. That’s about all I can tell you about it,” says Billy.
But Barbara Rayburn, Billy’s wife of 54 years, remembers Sept. 24, 2015 like yesterday. “I heard him fall and I went in there,” she says. “Then, the box that’s attached to that vest started talking, saying ‘Call 911 and your doctor.’” By the time she called 911 and rushed back to her husband, he had received a second jolt of electricity, restoring his normal heart rhythm and bringing him back to life as the emergency responders arrived.
“When a patient’s heart muscle is first discovered to be weak, our goal is to make it stronger with medications,” says Dr. Sheth. “Sometimes the patient can die of cardiac arrest in the waiting period before we can place the permanent defibrillator. During this waiting period, the wearable defibrillator vest protects patients. That’s what happened to Mr. Rayburn. We don’t place permanent defibrillators in patients when we first detect weak hearts because in some cases the heart becomes stronger with medications.”
Emergency responders whisked Rayburn to Methodist Medical Center where Todd Justice, MD, board-certified and fellowship-trained interventional cardiologist, implanted a permanent cardiac defibrillator capable of pacing Rayburn’s heart. About 120,000 Americans each year will have defibrillators implanted; but before they do, many will wear a “talking” vest like the one that saved
Billy Rayburn’s life.
“If he hadn’t had his vest, we’d probably have had his funeral on the 27th of that month,” says Barbara. “That’s just a fact of life. That vest saved his life.”