More Lives are at Risk Now – And Not Just Due to COVID-19

(BPT) - Many Americans have adjusted to a “new normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic, from embracing takeout, avoiding crowds and mastering virtual get-togethers to delaying elective healthcare procedures. Yet at least one important thing hasn’t changed: if you experience a serious health condition, like a heart attack, you should seek immediate care to save your life. Even now that some restrictions are being lifted, patients may still be wary of seeking treatment.

Doctors report that the risk of dying from an unattended heart issue is likely far greater than the risk of contracting a fatal case of COVID-19 from an ER visit.[1] But healthcare facilities have reported drops of close to 50% in patients seeking treatment for heart attacks[2], and nationally, 911 call volumes for strokes and heart attacks have also declined.[3]

Some healthcare professionals are worried about a different “second wave” — one indirectly caused by the pandemic — in which patients are so afraid to go to the hospital that they die at home or wait so long to seek care that they suffer massive damage to their heart that they would not have otherwise.[4]

Stephen Notson, of Phoenix, knows firsthand that some symptoms cannot be ignored. He described feeling “not right,” with nausea and a pain in his shoulder blades. His niece drove him to a local urgent care, who immediately sent him to the emergency room.

Notson, 60, was suffering a ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), a very serious type of heart attack. He needed a procedure to save his life: a stent was placed in his heart to open a blockage and restore blood flow.

Certain heart attack patients, like Notson, have increased risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). As part of his recovery, his doctor prescribed Notson with LifeVest®, a wearable defibrillator that can keep patients protected during their recovery.

SCA occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating effectively. Many victims may experience a rapid life-threatening heart rhythm that causes them to suddenly lose consciousness. It can cause death within minutes if untreated. LifeVest is designed to detect certain life-threatening rapid heart rhythms and automatically deliver a treatment shock to save a patient’s life. As SCA can happen at any time and without warning, Notson was instructed to wear the device at all times, except for a short shower or bath.

“My doctor felt I needed it to protect me,” Notson said. “My heart wasn’t in good enough condition to go without it.”

Following a heart attack, the risk of SCA is highest in the first 30 days. Ten days after his release from the hospital, Notson was asleep and suffered SCA in the middle of the night; LifeVest administered a life-saving treatment. His brother drove him to the hospital, where it was decided Notson should continue to wear LifeVest, as his heart was still not strong enough for longer-term treatment options.

Eight days after that, in the middle of the afternoon, he was sitting on his bed when he heard his LifeVest device alarm. He lost consciousness, and when he regained consciousness, he was on the floor and the device informed him he had received a treatment. He was alone, called his doctor, and then called 911. The paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital.

“[LifeVest] ‘saved my bacon’ twice,” Notson said. He has since received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.

Notson’s story underscores the importance of seeking timely treatment, even during COVID-19. The fear of seeking treatment may be putting more lives at risk, but these are lives that don’t need to be lost.

If you’re experiencing serious heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain; difficulty breathing; or discomfort in your chest, arms, back, neck, shoulder or jaw, seek emergency medical care. If your doctor recommends at-home SCA protection with LifeVest, be sure to wear it at all times as instructed — like Notson, it could save your life.


[1] Gump, Brooks B., and Kevin Heffernan. “Why the Coronavirus Appears Tied to Fewer Heart Attacks.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 11 May 2020, www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2020-05-11/why-are-hospitals-seeing-fewer-heart-attacks-during-covid-19.

[2] Hafner, Katie. “Fear of Covid-19 Leads Other Patients to Decline Critical Treatment.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 May 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/25/health/coronavirus-cancer-heart-treatment.html.

[3] Stone, Will, and Elly Yu. “Eerie Emptiness Of ERs Worries Doctors: Where Are The Heart Attacks And Strokes?” NPR, NPR, 6 May 2020, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/05/06/850454989/eerie-emptiness-of-ers-worries-doctors-where-are-the-heart-attacks-and-strokes.

[4] McFarling, Usha Lee, et al. “Covid Phobia Keeping People with Heart Symptoms Away from ERs.” STAT, 23 Apr. 2020, www.statnews.com/2020/04/23/coronavirus-phobia-keeping-heart-patients-away-from-er/.

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