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Device Warns Before Heart Attack Happens

A device is being tested that is supposed to alert people when they're about to have a heart attack.
Usually when a heart attack strikes, you have no idea it's coming.  The longer you wait to get to the hospital, the more damage it can do. But a device is being tested that is supposed to alert people when they're about to have a heart attack.

"All of a sudden your chest gets real heavy. It feels like there's a lot of pressure there. My jaw started hurting. Everything just started aching all over."

Mikel Wynne is all too familiar with what it feels like to have a heart attack. That's because the 67-year-old Virginia man had three of them last year.

"That's kind of the way last year went. It seemed like every time i tried to do anything, i'd have a heart attack and it's kind of a scary thing because really you're just feeling fine and the next minute, you're gone."

After surviving the trio of heart attacks, Wynne and his wife joke that he must have nine lives, but they also realize that it's very likely he'll have another episode and that's no laughing matter.

"I know eventually i'm going to have one and i'm not going to make it. That's just the way it is. It's family history, a smoker. The odds were against me,"  Wynne said.

So wouldn't it be nice if Wynne could get a warning before his next heart attack? Now doctors are testing a new device called guardian, which can alert patients when there are changes in their heart function.  Interventional cardiologist Dr. Hamid Taheri describes it.

"It's a device that will help our patients decide whether they are having any symptoms, if it's a true heart attack or a false alarm."

The device comes in two parts. One is similar to a pacemaker. It's implanted in the chest and connected to the heart. It transmits data to a small pager-like machine that patients can wear on their belt.

Dr. Taheri is testing the device in Virginia.

"It can detect any decrease in oxygen or suggestions of changes in the blood flow to the heart, which usually the cause of that is a heart attack."

When these changes occur, the device in the chest will vibrate and the pager will beep. If a yellow light is flashing, that means there's been a non-emergency cardiac event like a heart arrhythmia and the patient should see a doctor within 48 hours.  But if the light is red, the patient could be having a heart attack right now and should immediately go to the emergency room.

"The sooner you get there, the better chance of survival and less damage to your heart,"  Taheri explained.

"It helps to kind of take some of the anxiety out to everything that's going on,"  Wynne said.

Mikel Wynne has been using the device for about three months now. So far, he hasn't had any heart attacks or problems. But he says wearing the device just makes him feel better.

"It gives me a little peace of mind. You know, maybe i can get some help quick enough, instead of worrying all the time."

The Guardian device is already being used in Europe and Brazil.  Doctors in the U.S. are testing it on people who had a heart attack within the last six months.
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