Heart patients at Epworth fitted with life-saving vest

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Recovering heart patients are avoiding surgery by wearing a life-saving new vest.

It is fitted with a defibrillator that activates immediately upon sensing a problem.

The device is currently being tested at Epworth HealthCare in Melbourne.

42-year-old Shane Anwyl is among the first Australians to be fitted with the life vest after he suffered a serious heart problem.

“I think I looked at it like an insurance, a security device so that if something did happen it could treat me,” he said.

He wore the vest with its own built in defibrillator for three months – the most dangerous period for recovering heart patients.

The circular metal plates monitor the heart rate and if abnormal rhythms are detected, a shock is delivered to the patient through the back pads.

“If the patient has a dangerous rhythm then the device can be life-saving,” Epworth Health Care cardiologist Dr Hendrik Zimmet said.

Mr Anwyl, a father of three, wore his protective vest and control unit day and night. His son was convinced it gave his dad superpowers.

“My youngest son, my six-year-old, is into Buzz Lightyear so he thought it was my jet pack,” he said.

The life vest is only new in Australia and not yet funded through the public or private health systems, however, it is widely used in the United States and Europe where it has saved many lives.

Mr Anwyl’s heart has now recovered well enough for him to discard the vest.

Importantly, by wearing it he voided the need to have a defibrillator surgically implanted.

“We do see patients who get defibrillators and who subsequently recover their heart function and, in retrospect, we really didn’t need the device,” Dr Zimmet said.

The cost for the heart vest over three months is about $11,000.

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