After three days of pounding migraines, Dennis Young slid into his green Honda Accord and drove the mile from his Greenville home to the emergency room.
"I was beet red and sweating like crazy," the 58-year-old recalls of that late August day. "Next thing I know, I'm waking up in ICU."
Young had suffered a serious heart attack. And after two weeks in Greenville Memorial Hospital, he underwent a procedure to open up five blocked arteries.
Given his heart's reduced ability to pump blood, doctors knew he was at higher risk for life-threatening heart rhythm abnormalities.
So before he was released from the hospital, he was fitted for a vest equipped with an automatic external defibrillator similar to those found at schools, churches and other public venues to shock someone who's suffered a cardiac arrest back to life.
It wasn't long before the vest did just that for Young.
And now, on the eve of Thanksgiving, Young says he has a lot to be grateful for on this very special holiday.
On the floor
The former long-haul trucker was getting ready for work on Aug. 28 when he gave in to the worsening headaches and headed for the ER instead.
Though he was there for the migraine, the doctor asked if he had any other complaints, and Young put his hand on his chest, thinking about the pain he'd been having.
Moments later, he was on the floor.
The attack had severely damaged his heart. And doctors placed five stents in his arteries to increase the blood flow.
As he was being released, he was given the vest.
"It's a defibrillator you wear day and night," said Jennifer Walton, the nurse practitioner with Carolina Cardiology who's been caring for Young.
"So if a patient were to go into one of these life-threatening heart rhythm abnormalities," she said, "then the vest would sound an alarm ... but if he's unconscious, the vest will actually shock him and save his life."
Young put the device on, went home and began the recovery process, walking around his neighborhood every day to build up his strength while tending to his disabled wife.
Sudden cardiac arrest
Then on Oct. 29, he stepped out on his porch to wave to a home health nurse who was trying to find his house and collapsed.
"I seen her up the hill, waved at her," he said, "and that's the last thing I knew until she was on the steps and asking me if I was all right."
Young had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. It's a condition marked by a rhythm so fast that the heart can't pump enough blood to the body, said Dr. Craig Hudak, Carolina Cardiology Consultants. It's fatal if not treated within minutes, 95 percent of victims die before they can reach help, he said.
Nationwide, more than 420,000 cardiac arrests occur outside the hospital every year, according to the American Heart Association.
"He went into a very fast heart rhythm that is life-threatening and cardiac arrest," said Walton. "And the defibrillator shocked him and restored regular rhythm."
Dubbed "The LifeVest," the device is a wearable defibrillator that monitors the patient's heart rhythm and delivers a shock to restore normal rhythm when it detects an abnormality, according to its manufacturer, ZOLL Medical Corp. of Massachusetts.
Unlike portable AEDs, it works on its own without assistance from another person and is covered by most insurance, according to the company.
It can be used after a heart attack as well as for people with other conditions, including bypass surgery, cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure, according to ZOLL.
Worn under clothing, the device consists of a fabric vest equipped with sensors to detect heart rhythm and a defibrillator to send a shock when needed.
'Saved my life'
It also holds a blue conductive gel that Young said left him looking "like Papa Smurf had exploded" once the defibrillator sent the shock.
Patients typically wear the device for three months, after which heart function is reassessed, Walton said. If the pumping function is still too low, they are eligible for an implantable defibrillator for long-term protection.
And after his cardiac arrest, Young received an implanatable defibrillator.
"The reason we don't do that immediately is because it's not always necessary," Walton said. "In his case, after we put in the stents and started him on good medicines, we anticipated the heart function would improve and he would no longer need a defibrillator.
"But sometimes that doesn't happen," she adds. "He'd already worn the defibrillator for two months and had a cardiac arrest. That meant he was eligible for an implantable device."
Walton said Young is the first patient she's prescribed it to who was revived by it after a cardiac arrest.
"Mr. Young is the reason that we do this," she said. "I'm so glad it turned out so well."
"It definitely saved my life," Young said. "If it hadn't been for her recommending that, I guess I'd be somewhere else right now."