Science! A 14-year-old girl has discovered that a regular old iPad Smart Cover can “accidentally turn off” a person’s implantable deibrillator… a device that might be the only thing keeping them alive.
Hetr name is Gianna Chien, and having done a report on the issue for her class science fair, she’s now presenting her findings in front of 8,000 doctors at the Heart Rhythm Society.
Here’s the deal. If you have a implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, your heart is automatically restarted with an electric shock every time it stops keeping a normal rhythm. Of course, sometimes these devices go a little funny, and need to be adjusted or replaced, so there’s a way to turn them off… but as you imagine, it doesn’t involve bloodily plunging your fingers beneath your sternum and thumbing an ‘Off’ button.
Instead, it’s done by holding a strong magnet against a patient’s chest… and guess what? You can use an iPad smart cover’s 30 embedded magnets, or even just an iPad held against the chest, to do the same thing. And while most defibrillators will just come back on when the magnet is removed, some don’t, meaning that someone could shut down their defibrillator and not even know it until a couple days later, their heart falls out of whack and suddenly they’re dying on a street corner.
To be fair, this is not an issue with Apple’s device specifically: any old magnets of sufficient strength will do. And to be even fairer, Apple straight out warns people in its online product that people with pacemakers (which a defibrillator essentially is) should keep the iPad at least six-inches away from your chest.
Still, obviously, the danger isn’t well known despite Apple’s warnings, and Chien’s study isn’t just raising awareness, it’s making it obvious that, if you have a defibrillator, falling asleep with one on your chest at night is a particularly poor idea: 30 percent of patients who put an iPad on their chest found their defibrillators shut down.