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Mike's Blog: The Heart of a Runner Part 12

Bionic man with 150-joule volts

Editor's note: Mike Ashland loved running. But after he moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Oregon, and began working on a home renovation with his partner, he found himself more and more exhausted. Medical tests revealed that without his knowledge, he had suffered a massive heart attack that destroyed nearly half of his heart muscle. Within a month, Ashland went from being a marathon runner to a critically ill heart patient. With no job and no health insurance, he found himself facing the most serious crisis of his life. Ashland chronicles his perilous journey in this blog.

March 1

I have to wear the defibrillator vest 24 hours a day (except in the shower, of course). It's a rather heavy cotton device that goes around my chest sort of like a bra (or Bro, if you watched Seinfeld). There are two large foil-coated pads in the back -- and one in the front that will produce a 150-joule jolt if I get a heart attack.

Around the inside bottom of the vest are four circular electrodes that constantly monitor my heart. There's also a vibrator stuck in there. This entire apparatus is attached to a canteen-sized computer pack via a 1/4 thick cable. The pack has a screen and can tell me my heart rate and status of the device. It also has a modem so I can upload my heart records to the system, and has a rechargeable battery that runs the whole thing.

Lastly, there is another coiled cord running off the pack that goes to a mouse-like device. This has buttons I must push to interact with the computer pack. It also has a speaker. If the computer thinks I'm having a heart attack and am unconscious, it will beep, then vibrate, and then speak a very loud warning. A siren will go off (I kid you not) and, finally, it will say something like, "Step away. Defibrillation is about to begin." That warning sequence takes about 25 seconds. If I don't do anything to stop it I will get zapped pretty well and, hopefully, kick back in amongst the living.

Obviously I am not the guy you want to sit next to in a theater.

When all these warnings go off, I can (and should, if I'm conscious) press two buttons on the little mouse that will interrupt the defibrillation. Clearly, getting defibrillated while conscious would be very painful -- and might also produce a heart attack.

The vest costs $3,200 a month. We thought maybe we should look on eBay to see if we could find one cheaper ("LifeVest, used only once. Good condition -- only two small burn marks").

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