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His Apple Watch warned of an irregular heart rate. Turns out he was having a heart attack

Click to play video: 'N.S. man credits Apple Watch’s irregular heart rate warning for saving his life'
N.S. man credits Apple Watch’s irregular heart rate warning for saving his life
A Halifax-area firefighter says he was always diligent about wearing his Apple Watch, and now he says he will never go a day without it. The 44-year-old says the device saved his life. Amber Fryday explains – Jun 14, 2024

A Nova Scotia man is thanking a digital watch for saving his life.

Travis Chalmers, of Elmsdale, N.S., said he was outside playing road hockey with his son when he suddenly experienced a “warm sensation” in his chest area and a splitting headache.

“I just thought it was a flu or cold coming on and my seasonal allergies had been kicking in. I thought it was flu-like symptoms and shrugged it off,” he said.

But to Chalmers’ surprise, an otherwise laidback afternoon eventually took a scary turn when he glanced at his wrist. A notification from his Apple Watch led him to discover he was experiencing a heart attack.

“About a half hour later, I’m laying down with my daughter and my heart rate is still beating out of my chest,” he continued, adding that he monitored his heart rate on his Apple Watch for the next few hours.

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The watch indicated that he was experiencing atrial fibrillation, a rapid heart rhythm that can increase the risk of stroke and heart failure. As his heart continued to maintain an irregular pace, he decided to head to a nearby hospital.

“When I said atrial fibrillation and gave them the symptoms, I was rushed right in,” he said. “That’s when they told me I’m probably having a heart attack.”

Chalmers, who’s 44 years old, said doctors confirmed there were high troponin levels in his blood, indicating damage to the heart. After several tests, it was confirmed he was experiencing a heart attack.

“I stayed in the hospital for a week and got more tests done to confirm and one of my arteries is 100 per cent blocked,” he said, adding that doctors believe the artery became completely clogged while he was playing road hockey with his son.

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He said he will have to take daily medication for the rest of his life.

Since he’s worn the Apple Watch for an extensive period, Chalmers said the device could pick up the irregularities in contrast to his usual heart rate.

“Basically, it tells you something is different from what it’s been monitoring before, and if this is out of character for you, see a medical practitioner immediately,” he said.

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Chalmers, who works as a professional firefighter, said an incident of this magnitude came as a surprise as he’s always led an active lifestyle. To add to the unexpected nature, he said his family has a limited history of heart problems.

“It’s one of those things, you just don’t know what’s going on inside. It can hit anyone at any time,” he said. “I’m very fortunate the watch gave me a second set of eyes.”

Chalmers, a father of two, said he’s grateful the Apple Watch’s monitoring gave him that extra proof that he should seek care.

“This was a really bad situation. If I didn’t come in, there’s a chance I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I was able to get in there in time and figure this out, instead of letting it sit.”

Ciorsti MacIntyre, a cardiologist at Halifax’s QEII infirmary, said devices like the Apple Watch are providing more people with the ability to be immediately notified when they’re experiencing an abnormal heart rhythm.

“Patients are coming to us with information from their wearable devices that we now have to deal with,” she said, adding that although information from these devices isn’t always as severe as indicated — it nonetheless is providing an extra layer of information.

“It’s looking for irregularities in the heart rhythm and while atrial fibrillation can be a common cause of that irregularity, there are certainly other benign causes that could lead to it as well.”

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MacIntyre said it’s much better for the Apple Watch to “overcall things” and cause people to follow up with their health-care provider as opposed to the contrary.

As for the data, MacIntyre said the device provides a relatively accurate report.

“They actually do perform quite well but this false positive issue is certainly real,” she said. “That’s why we wouldn’t base all our decisions necessarily from a watch. But it might make us look deeper into the issue with more medical-grade technology.”

She said the device primarily focuses on detecting atrial fibrillation and can help medical professionals dig deeper into the problem. In addition, she said an Apple Watch can help trace data for instances that occur when a patient is not in the presence of a doctor.

“It can reconstruct what was going on to allow us to correlate their symptoms with what the heart rhythm might be doing at that particular time,” MacIntyre said. “We can’t be with people 24/7, (but) the watch can be.”

Despite the benefits, MacIntyre said that people shouldn’t become completely dependent on their devices to determine whether or not they should seek medical attention.

“Ultimately, the fact that he was feeling unwell was extremely important too,” she said. “The watch is not designed to pick up heart attacks. In this case, the watch was adding to the fact that he was feeling unwell, and something was going on that led him to seek the medical attention she required.”

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“We have to use these tools responsibly as they become a bigger part of our lives,” she said.

— with files from Amber Fryday

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