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Smartwatch detects serious heart problem before Central Texas man notices symptoms

A Central Texas veterinarian says his Apple Watch detected a potentially fatal heart problem before he noticed any symptoms. (Photo:Bettie Cross){p}{/p}
A Central Texas veterinarian says his Apple Watch detected a potentially fatal heart problem before he noticed any symptoms. (Photo:Bettie Cross)

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A smartwatch might have saved another life. A Central Texas man says his Apple Watch detected a serious heart condition. The wearable technology diagnosed his potentially fatal problem before he noticed any symptoms.

Dr. Ray Emerson knows what to do when a dog gets sick. "Her heart sounds are better," said Dr. Emerson.

The Waco veterinarian quickly diagnosed Josie's heart condition and is monitoring her treatment with X-rays. "She can breathe a lot better than she did last week," said Dr. Emerson.

But for this veterinarian to figure out his own heart rhythm was out of sync it took an alert from his Apple Watch. "The watch dinged me," said Dr. Emerson. "I looked down and it said you are in atrial fibrillation."

During atrial fibrillation or AFib the upper chambers of the heart are out of sync with the lower chambers. The quivering heartbeat can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure. "It told me I wasn't feeling as good as I thought I was," said Dr. Emerson.

The veterinarian immediately went to his doctor for an EKG. "Ray, he says, your watch is right. You are in atrial fibrillation," said Dr. Emerson.

The 79-year-old had surgery at St. David's South Austin Medical Center to correct the irregular rhythm. "It's really important because it's a leading cause of stroke," said Dr. Jason Zagrodzky, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute at St. David’s Medical Center.

Dr. Zagrodzky says a stroke is often the first sign of AFib. "Most people don't know there is something wrong with them," said Dr. Zagrodzky.

That was the case with Dr. Emerson. The vet says he wasn't having any symptoms like heart palpitations, fatigue or dizziness. "I would say probably at least once or twice a week someone comes to me solely because their watch said, hey, you've got a serious problem," said Dr. Zagrodzky.

The smartwatch technology is relatively simple to use. Open the health app, hold your finger on the crown and wait 30 seconds. A sinus rhythm result is normal. An AFib result means you should talk to your doctor. "It's remarkable in its ability to detect problems," said Dr. Zagrodzky.

Its advantage is that people wear their smartwatches every day. Even if they don't notice five or ten episodes of AFib, odds are the watch will. "The Apple Watch doesn't have to be perfect. It only needs to detect one of those to make the diagnosis," said Dr. Zagrodzky.

Dr. Emerson says he's sold, even though his Apple Watch was a gift. "I was too cheap to buy it myself," said Dr. Emerson.

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Ask him now, and he'll tell you the wearable technology is priceless. "Oh yeah. This is my buddy," laughed Dr. Emerson.

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