World Heart Day: lucky UAE car crash survivor highlights hidden cardiac issues

Doctors claim smartphones can spot early signs of problems on World Heart Day

Jacob Nediambath with the emergency care team at NMC Royal Hospital Sharjah, who helped save his life after he had a heart attack while driving. Photo: NMC
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A Dubai worker who collapsed at the wheel of his car and crashed into a roundabout has spoken out about deadly, undiagnosed heart conditions.

Jacob Nediambath, 57, an operations worker with Dewa, was driving to visit his GP two days after experiencing discomfort in his left side, upper arm and shoulder.

Mr Nediambath, from India, was otherwise healthy and had no conditions or symptoms that suggested any heart problems.

Time was a key factor in saving his life, as more delay could have damaged his heart permanently
Dr Mohammed Shabbir

Doctors later diagnosed a blocked artery that caused a massive heart attack while he was driving. Luckily, he was close to a private hospital where he underwent emergency resuscitation and surgery.

His experience highlights the issue of hidden cardiac problems on World Heart Day, which falls on Thursday.

"It was in the morning, close to 11am. I had developed a gnawing feeling that something was amiss,” he said.

"I usually take a specific route to my regular clinic in Rolla, Sharjah but that day took a longer way in and entered the [Sharjah] Clock Tower roundabout.

“I do not remember anything except that I was driving to meet my GP.

“The next thing I recall is seeing myself in the ICU of this hospital.”

Quick-thinking bystanders called the nearby NMC Royal Hospital where staff immediately sent a medical team.

Mr Nediambath was resuscitated and given a shock to his heart to restore ventricular fibrillation and was then placed on a ventilator.

“We saw Jacob lying unconscious in his car after hitting the roundabout,” said Dr Mohammed Shabbir, head of emergency medicine at the hospital.

“No other vehicle was involved. We got him to our ER and found him unresponsive to commands, with no pulse.

“Accordingly, our code blue protocol, systems and processes around a heart attack patient were initiated.

“Time was a key factor in saving his life, as more delay could have damaged his heart permanently.”

Because of the proximity to the hospital, doctors took only 20 minutes to set about emergency surgery.

Although Mr Nediambath had high cholesterol, he had no family history of diabetes, was a non-smoker and had a "low-risk profile".

Hidden heart problems can be fatal

Doctors said others with undiagnosed heart conditions — responsible for a large percentage of deaths related to cardiac problems — are not usually so lucky.

Everyday technology is being used increasingly as a tool to spot early signs of hidden health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, that could lead to a heart attack or stroke.

A recent study published by the European Society of Cardiology looked at how smartphones could detect signs of atrial fibrillation (Afib), a hidden killer with no obvious symptoms that can lead to a stroke.

It affects more than 40 million people worldwide and occurs when the upper chamber of the heart beats irregularly and ineffectively.

Researchers at the Innsbruck Medical University in Austria compared smartphone screening that has an inbuilt photoplethysmographic (PPG) sensor with a standard ECG screening to detect Afib.

Health insurance policyholders with an average age of 65 from a large healthcare insurer took part in the study to test the efficiency of smartphone screening.

Using an app called Preventicus Heartbeats, pulse wave irregularities were measured.

A total of 2,860 participants were assigned to digital screening and 2,691 to conventional screening.

Results showed screening using conventional smartphones more than doubled the detection and treatment rate.

The same technology is incorporated in several wearable devices, such as the KardiaMobile approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK.

It detects arrhythmia from a finger pad and sends ECG results to a mobile app within 30 seconds.

Meanwhile, the latest Apple Watch operating process has a notification system on its Heart Rate app to send alerts to the wearer if an irregular heart rhythm is recorded that could indicate Afib.

“There have been various studies held in renowned institutions to corroborate the results shown in devices like the Apple Watch,” said Dr Naveed Ahmed, a consultant interventional cardiologist at Aster Hospital, Mankhool.

“They have found that these gadgets were efficient in detecting abnormalities of heart beatings.

“These irregular beatings can indicate atrial fibrillation and can be critical as it can lead to stroke, blood clots and even heart failure.

“In most cases, the lives of the patients could not be saved because they reach the hospital late.”

Multi-million dollar Apple Watch health study

A $37 million (Dh135m) study at Northwestern University and Johns Hopkins University is underway in the US to test how effective an Apple Watch is in monitoring Afib, in an attempt to reduce a patient’s lifelong reliance on blood-thinning medication.

Patients will use an Apple Watch and iPhone app to monitor the affects of blood-thinning medication used for a limited period of time in response to a prolonged episode of AFib.

The data will create personalised care for each patient.

Dr Mazen Shaheen, head of the cardiovascular department at the Clemenceau Medical Centre in Dubai, advises patients to download mobile apps that help monitor their heart rates over a long period of time.

“Telemetry is a device used by patients that can detect the heart’s electrical rhythm over several days,” he said.

“Other technology like a smartphone or a watch can be useful to screen patients, but they are not as accurate as other medical devices.

“I tell my patients to download apps that can be used on smartphones to monitor Afib, they are often free apps and easy to use.”

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