TULSA - For years, Karen Richards kept telling her doctors something was wrong with her heart.
"It would just feel like something hit me in the chest. Then I would become extremely short of breath," Richards said. "Like I couldn't breathe, going to pass out."
She underwent numerous tests, and wore bulky monitors with leads strapped to her chest in an attempt to pinpoint the problem, but doctors couldn't find anything wrong. As a registered nurse, Richards could see the symptoms, but was growing frustrated by the lack of clinical proof.
"After so many years you're thinking, 'Do they even believe me?'" she wondered.
"About 50 percent of people, usually women, [that] tell their doctor about their rapid heart rate are told they have an anxiety disorder," he said.
One of the problems is that traditional monitors do not detect heart episodes that happen less than once a month. As a result, Dr. Sandler prescribed brand new technology, AliveCor, a device that turns a cellphone into a heart monitor capable of recording a clinical quality electrocardiogram.
The phone case, fastened with metal leads on the back, is attached to the patient's phone before the app is downloaded. To activate the device, the patient simply touches the leads on the case and within seconds, the cellphone shows the patient's heartbeat and heart rate.
The recording is then transmitted wirelessly from the case through the iPhone to the doctor's office.
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Richards carried hers for three months before her heart raced out of control again. At the time, she was working in the cardiac lab of an Arkansas hospital.
"This time I just had my phone in my pocket, held it and said, 'I need some help.'" she said. "And they just took it from there."
When physicians at the Oklahoma Heart Institute read the EKG online, they realized Richards' heart was racing dangerously fast at 240 beats per minute. It was the first time any test revealed the truth of what was happening.
"Some of these patients don't even have the symptoms," Sandler said. "So being able to easily detect your heart rhythm at home, find out that it's abnormal, can certainly save [someone from] a stroke."
The technology is not designed for all heart patients. In fact, it must be prescribed by a physician who carefully matches the patient to the appropriate heart monitor according to their symptoms.
Last month, Richards underwent a heart ablation procedure to correct the underlying problem. Her doctor, and the device and app on her cell phone, offer reassurance she is well again and ready to live her life.
"Off I go. No medications," she said. "I don't have to be on anything anymore. Life is good."
Sandler is planning a free community education seminar on Atrial Fibrillation, which is also known as A Fib. Because recent research indicates yoga can help minimize the triggers of irregular heart beat, yoga instructor Jennifer Skaggs will offer a free yoga session to seminar participants.
The seminar will be held from 10:30-11:10 a.m. Sept. 14 at the Oklahoma Heart Institute. RSVP is required.