A successful partner in a busy Atlanta law firm, Rex Lamb had little time to worry about his heart condition. Although cardiomyopathy is a serious disease of the heart muscle, Rex was fortunate not to have any of the disease’s usual symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, fatigue and breathlessness. His cardiologist was monitoring Rex’s condition and had him on a medication to prevent the disease from worsening and to reduce the risk of complications.
In early 2007 Rex and his wife, Kathy, moved to Lexington, Virginia. A graduate of Washington & Lee University School of Law, Rex was happy to retire to the rural setting he had grown to love while a student there. That April Rex had his first appointment with cardiologist Chris Friend.
Dr. Friend evaluated Rex's condition and strongly recommended that Rex undergo a procedure to implant an ICD (internal cardioverter defibrillator). Tiny wires attach the ICD to the heart, allowing it to monitor the heart's activity, store information and restore the heart to a regular rhythm should it began to develop a life threatening, irregular beat.
"My first question was 'why would I need an ICD?' I had no symptoms and hadn't experienced any problems since my cardiomyopathy diagnosis five years earlier," shared Rex. "Dr. Friend's response got my attention. He said often times the first symptom is sudden death."
A few weeks later, Dr. Friend implanted Rex's ICD. The procedure was done in the Electrophysiology (EP) lab at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, and Rex went home the next day.
Another year went by with no heart problems.
A life saved
On May 15, 2008, Rex arrived at the Lexington YMCA for his morning workout. While on the elliptical trainer, he had a brief sense of feeling lightheaded. Then, without any other warning, his ICD fired three times within 15 seconds, knocking him to the ground.
"I sat on the floor for a minute, coming to grips with what had just happened," shared Rex. "I decided that I felt all right. So I got my car keys and drove home to my wife."
After a call to Dr. Friend, Kathy drove Rex to Charlottesville. Rex was admitted to Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and underwent several tests including a cardiac catheterization. Cardiologists found a major blockage in one of his coronary arteries and implanted a stent to keep the artery open.
When the cardiac device team retrieved data from Rex's ICD, they found that during those seconds when his ICD fired, his heart rate had gotten as high as 260 beats per minute. That's more than four times the rate of a normal heart beat. Without the ICD, Rex's first symptom would have been his last.
"The best decision I ever made," said Rex, "was choosing Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital for my cardiac care."