WINCHESTER, VA- These days, Robert Wilt says he's lucky to be alive. At 39-years old, he suffered a heart arrhythmia in his sleep that almost took his life.
"I didn't know I had a heart problem until I went to the hospital," Wilt says.
The LifeVest is not a fashion statement, but a life saver. It's a wearable defibrillator that beeps whenever a patient is having an arrhythmia. It can send a life-saving shock to the heart, something Robert couldn't have lived without.
"I was sleeping and the alarm went off," Wilt says. "When the alarm goes off, you could squeeze these two buttons like that and it would take it away," he adds, holding the vest.
But this time was different.
"He just wasn't waking up and I knew there was something wrong," says Wilt's girlfriend, Kristine Kennedy. "Usually, he woke up really quick when it went off, but he was not waking up. He was unconscious already."
Doctors prescribed the LifeVest to Robert after discovering he had a weak heart. They say patients can wear it while on medication until their hearts get stronger.
"Generally speaking after three to six months the heart starts to show signs of getting stronger," says Dr. Kahn, an Attending Electrophysiologist at Winchester Medical Center. "But in his case, it was even 14 months later and it was still not getting stronger."
Although Robert seems young to have heart trouble, doctors say having a weak heart is not uncommon for his age. They say young patients with weak hearts are strong candidates for the LifeVest.
"People who have younger in age have a high risk of what we called nonischemic cardiomyopathy," says Dr. Kahn. "Their heart gets weaker for some other reasons than a heart attack."
Doctors have since implanted a defibrillator in Robert's chest. It's his new long-term lifesaver, and like the vest it's something his family is thankful for.
"I thank God everyday for that life vest," Kennedy says.
The LifeVest has saved more than 500,000 lives over the years.