Wearable Defibrillator Saves Local Woman's Life

By: Michael Oder Email
By: Michael Oder Email

BRAZOS COUNTY - On a cloudy evening at a ranch in Brazos County, Jane Armstrong sprays down "Ace." For the last three years, Ace has carried her through dozens of barrel races.

Ace also likes apples. Being a horse, that's not uncommon.

"It has been quite a long time," says Jane. She's talking about her time in the rodeo arena.

"It's like we have a family," she explained. Jane started young, at 14, getting interested in rodeos. Now, a little more seasoned, she competes in the Texas Senior Pro Rodeo Association. She's a pretty good barrel racer, too. In fact, a race in November is where Jane inadvertently started the race for her life.

"I was making a run at the Texas Senior Pro Rodeo Association finals last year and when I went up in the hole on the second barrel and dropped my outside to turn," she explains.

"I didn't catch the saddle horn and so I went down," she explains with a hand motion like a falling bird. She claims she was impersonating a lawn dart, but something was wrong.

"It's something strange enough that you usually don't find them until you die," said Jane.

Doctors at Scott & White found Jane's heart was in bad shape. She showed signs of heart failure, then they found the unexpected.

A tumor.

Jane's doctors didn't waste anytime. They wheeled her straight from the doctors office into the hospital.

"Less than ten people make it to the hospital," explains Scott & White Cardiologist Bao Le. He told Jane she would need open heart surgery. While she waited for her appointment, he would give her a life vest.

The device works like a defibrillator. Sensors detect the heart rate and when there's a problem, send out a shock through the paddles. The only difference is, this is one that you wear all the time.

"That's what I did," exclaimed Jane.

"What do you say? No? I don't want to be alive?" she asked. Doctors told Jane no riding horses. One night in January, she woke up. Something didn't feel right.

"I asked my husband to go get my blood pressure monitor in the kitchen and by the time he got back I said I think I better let this thing do what it's supposed to do and about that time it started talking," said Jane.

The device asked for people to stand back and not try and resuscitate the person wearing the vest. Then it shocked her.

The shock reset her heart's rhythm and gave her more time to get to help. The device recorded her heart beating more than 200 times a minute.

"If you don't have the LifeVest, someone has to call 911. EMS has to come and then that's when they shock you, which can take up 10, 15, 20, sometime 30 minutes and that's too long," explained Le.

"Sometimes people do not make it," he continued.

Out at her ranch, Jane doesn't move in a hurry. She moves with a purpose.

"When you have these kinds of experiences it makes you think back on God wants you to do something. What are you here for?" she asked.

Jane is getting another chance. She's doing what she loves and taking in each moment. The thought did cross her mind, and still crosses her mother's mind, that she might not return to the world of rodeos and horse riding.

"It is 'Breath in. Breath out.' This is life," she says of her ranch," more at its basic and if you come and do this, it allows you to leave all of that other behind for a little bit of time."

Time is something Jane has more of now thanks to a powerful piece of technology. Jane wore the LifeVest until her open heart surgery in January. Doctors implanted an internal defibrillator during the surgery to take place of the LifeVest. Jane says her doctors check the internal defibrillator regularly. She says, so far, it hasn't had to step in and shock her heart. The device monitors her heart beat and records data.


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