MEBANE, N.C. -- A 76-year-old man says he’s thankful to be alive after he nearly died on his kitchen floor this past April.
“I went to the mailbox to check the mail. I was sitting right here opening and reading the mail and next thing I know, they are picking me up off the floor,” Vernon Byrd said.
"[By the] time I stepped in the living room I heard a thump. I come [sic] running back in here and he was laying here in the floor,” Lucille Byrd, Vernon’s wife, said.
Byrd had gone into sudden cardiac arrest. His wife dialed 9-1-1. Based on where the Byrds live in Mebane, it would take first responders about 15 minutes to get to their house.
Fortunately, Byrd didn’t have to wait 15 minutes for treatment because he was wearing a LifeVest, a wearable defibrillator, which applied a shock to his heart.
“I call it the rescue squad in a can because it’s there, if you have to call someone, it’s way too late”, Dr. Rosey Gilliam said.
Dr. Gilliam is Byrd’s physician at UNC’s Center for Heart and Vascular Care.
Before the incident in late April, Byrd was admitted to the hospital because of previous issues with his heart. During that time, Dr. Gilliam wanted to implant a permanent defibrillator, but as protocol, there is a waiting period.
“During that 90 days you can wait and do nothing, or as in his case we felt like he would really benefit from a wearable defibrillator,” Gilliam said.
That decision came in handy. Byrd was discharged from the hospital on April 22. The very next day he went into sudden cardiac arrest at his home.
Byrd is UNC Hospitals’ first documented case of someone being saved from imminent death by a LifeVest device.
“You have to be prepared for it when it happens, and that’s what the wearable LifeVest gives us, an opportunity to treat it without them having to do anything,” Gilliam said.
At 76 years old, Byrd joked that he feels like a cat with nine lives, but is grateful that day in April wasn’t the end and he has more life to live.
“Oh Lord it feels great. It feels great,” he said. “I’m just glad I had it on.”
He continued, “He’s my lifesaver. Dr. Gilliam is my lifesaver.”
The LifeVest also comes with technology to ensure that a person is not shocked if there is a false alarm. Byrd has since had a permanent defibrillator implanted and is doing well.