Local man is the first at UNC Hospitals saved from sudden cardiac death by wearing a LifeVest®

Vernon Byrd of Mebane, NC is the first patient at UNC Hospitals to be saved by a LifeVest® defibrillator system when he collapsed from cardiac arrest in early May 2014

Local man is the first at UNC Hospitals saved from sudden cardiac death by wearing a LifeVest® click to enlarge F. Roosevelt "Rosey" Gilliam, MD
Local man is the first at UNC Hospitals saved from sudden cardiac death by wearing a LifeVest® click to enlarge LifeVest external defibrillator. Photo provided by Zoll.


Media Contact: Laura Melega, (919) 843-8217,

May 19, 2014 - Chapel Hill, NC -- Cardiac physicians at UNC Hospitals saved the life of a local Mebane man by outfitting him with a LifeVest® wearable defibrillator after showing signs of heart failure and sudden cardiac arrest.  The patient is the first documented case in the hospital’s history as being saved from imminent death by a LifeVest device.

Vernon Byrd, 76, (pictured below) had an angioplasty in January 2014 at a facility near his home in Alamance County due to coronary artery disease.  Medical protocol following an angioplasty includes a 90-day recovery period before a cardiac defibrillator can be implanted in the patient. However, before Byrd reached the 90 day time-limit, he was admitted to UNC Hospitals twice for heart failure. Vernon Byrd

During the second visit, Byrd was seen by Rosey Gilliam, MD, the Scott M. & Betty B. Custer Distinguished Professor of Cardiology and clinical physician in the UNC Center for Heart & Vascular Care. 

Dr. Gilliam, a world-renowned electrophysiologist, has been implanting defibrillators and other cardiac devices for more than 30 years.  After treating Byrd and reviewing his cardiac rhythms, Dr. Gilliam knew that Byrd was at very serious risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).  Since Byrd could not receive his defibrillator yet, Dr. Gilliam outfitted Byrd with the LifeVest wearable defibrillator until he could receive his permanent implant. 

“Sudden cardiac arrest kills more people than all types of cancer combined,” explains Dr. Gilliam.  “This is the number one cause of death in the United States, and there is often no warning prior to death.  We are working to elevate the awareness of physicians, patients and the public of the steps they can take to lower the risk of death from SCA.” 

Dr. Gilliam adds, “The LifeVest is one tool we can use, and Mr. Byrd’s case is a textbook example how to save lives of those at risk.” 

Manufactured by Zoll® Medical Corp., the LifeVest is designed to protect patients at risk for SCA. The LifeVest continuously monitors the patient’s heart and, if a life-threatening heart rhythm is detected, the device delivers a treatment shock to restore normal heart rhythm.

Just one day after Byrd received the LifeVest from Dr. Gilliam, he collapsed due to ventricular fibrillation (VF), a rapid heart rhythm that is extremely dangerous.  VF usually ends in death within minutes due to the failure of the heart to pump blood.

Byrd was experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.  His LifeVest detected the life-threatening arrhythmia and, within one minute, delivered a treatment shock that restored his normal heart rhythm and saved his life. Byrd regained consciousness shortly after the treatment, but had no recollection of the entire experience. Byrd’s wife and daughter witnessed the entire thing, however, and called 911. He was taken by ambulance to the UNC Hospitals, where Dr. Gilliam ultimately implanted a permanent defibrillator in Byrd’s chest.  Within days, Byrd was recovering at home.

“I truly believe in the LifeVest, and I certainly believe in them,” Byrd commented about Dr. Gilliam and his cardiac team. “They saved my life.”

Byrd and his family – including two grandchildren and two great grandchildren – now look forward to many more years together thanks to the care they received at UNC and the LifeVest.

See how the LifeVest external defibrillator works.


Filed under: