Linda Chesterfield can clearly remember the moment her cousin, Brenda Burkins, essentially died.
"Brenda had passed out. All I saw was her head back and her eyes were all white," said Chesterfield.
Burkins, however, doesn't remember much of the event.
"The last thing I remember was one of my cousins was making sandwiches for us," said Burkins who added that her next memory was waking up in the hospital.
In February, after complaining of exhaustion and shortness of breath, doctors discovered that Burkins only had 10 percent heart function. Cardiologist Dr. Tara Jarreau explains that Burkins' condition was caused because her heart was not pumping properly
Like any damaged muscle, the heart can sometimes heal on its own with the right therapy. Before doing any major procedures, Jarreau cardiologist wanted to give Burkins' heart a chance to do just that. However, the heart's weak condition meant that Burkins would be at risk for heart failure.
So, she was given a life vest.
"I use it in all of my patients who have weak hearts, just as protection because it can be lifesaving," said Jarreau.
The life vest is basically a small defibrillator. Patients wear the life vest under their clothes 24 hours a day. Sensors monitor and record heart function. If the heart's rhythm becomes abnormal, the vest has three defibrillator plates to shock the heart back into a normal pattern.
That's exactly what happened to Burkins when she was with her family one day in April.
Burkins and her cousins were together planning a funeral for their aunt who had recently passed away. Chesterfield says that's when she heard beeping and saw Burkins unconscious in her chair.
"The machine was still beeping and then it said stand back, stand back, do not touch the patient," recalled Chesterfield. "So we all moved back from her and then suddenly, after her head was back, she brought her head forward and then after it stopped talking, she sat straight up, erect, eyes wide open and looking and she said, ‘What happened? Did I do something wrong?'"
A print out of Burkins' heart beats shows a very irregular pattern, as well as the life saving shock delivered by the life vest.
Shortly after the dramatic event, doctors implanted a permanent defibrillator in her chest.
Today, Burkins says she feels much better and realizes now that the signs of her heart condition were clear, if she had listened.
"My body was really telling me that I was sicker than I was," said Burkins. "So, looking back I would tell everybody to please pay close attention to what your body is telling you."
A weakened heart can be caused by a heart attack, heart disease or even a viral infection. Symptoms include shortness of breath, swelling in the ankles or exhaustion.
If you experience any of those symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.
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