Apple Watch heart monitor saves teen’s life

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Apple Watch
Keep an eye on this. It might keep you out of the grave.
Photo: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac

A teen sought medical attention after his Apple Watch heart monitor gave him persistently high readings, and that decision saved him from an untimely death.

Paul Houle, a 17-year-old football player, bought Apple’s wearable a few days before he started pre-season training at Tabor Academy in Marion, Mass. After two practices in one day, he noticed that his heart rate was sitting around 145 beats per minute, even hours after he’d stopped exercising.

He wouldn’t know until later, but he was experiencing a potentially life-threatening condition.

“It was the first day of pre-season,” Houle said (via Cape Cod). “The first practice was from 10 until 12 and the second practice was from 3 to 5. During my second practice, I started to have problems breathing and I had pain in my back, which turned out later to be my kidneys failing.”

Doctors later diagnosed Houle with rhabdomyolysis, a syndrome linked to muscle injury. It occurs when muscle tissue breaks down and releases proteins into the bloodstream that can interfere with kidney, lung, and heart functions, as it did in this case. The overexertion due to two practices on the first day of training was likely too much of a strain on the unconditioned muscles, which caused them to break down.

Houle’s head trainer confirmed the Apple Watch’s readings manually and then took him to the school’s health center. The nurse there took more readings and then took the teen directly to the hospital, where doctors made the diagnosis.

Rhabdomyolysis is common, but it isn’t usually severe. Heat, exertion, and dehydration contributed to the seriousness of Houle’s condition, and without treatment, it could have ended much differently

“At the hospital, they told me that if I had gone to practice the next day that I would have lost all control of my muscles, and there was a good chance I would have fallen down on the field and died right there,” he says. “I’m very grateful for that heart rate monitor.”

This isn’t the first time in recent weeks that an Apple device has contributed to saving a life. Last month, a Tennessee teen trapped under his car managed to contact 911 when he activated digital assistant Siri on the iPhone in his pocket.

Obviously, we can’t discount the hard work of doctors, nurses, 911 operators, and paramedics in the work of actually doing the life-saving here. But it’s also cool to know that technology has reached a point that it can contribute.

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  • Patrick Magee

    I am prone to AFIB and one of my symptoms is a heart rate about 122. This is the reason I bought a Fitbit Charge HR. I’ll probably end up with an Apple Watch in the next year or so due to the App shown in the recent announcement as my cardiologist already has an Apple Watch.

  • Pete Miller

    To be fair, if you don’t notice such a high resting heartbeat then there must be something wrong with you.

    • chris2618

      I doubt anyone can have a resting heart rate that high and not notice.

      • Jerry Fisher

        My resting beat is usually hovers from 139 up to 165 depending on how much moving around I’ve done.

        Yes, my healthcare providers are aware of this. New nurses and students who shadow my doctors always get concerned, but my doctor explains that this is a normal feature for me. I don’t understand it as it falls somewhat outside the range of what is considered “normal.” I have no health issues. I’m healthy and expected to live a long, normal lifespan barring an accident. No mysterious pains either. I guess I’m a fluke in this regard.

        What a lot of people sometimes forget is that the numbers being discussed are a common range for the population as a whole — not everyone will always fall into that range. It is more of a guideline than an absolute and thats where we nonprofessionals tend to lose perspective.

        I’m very glad to hear that athlete was helped by his Apple Watch and it has made me begin to consider getting one as well.

    • sbh

      He knew something was wrong but the Apple watch gave him physical proof and then he went to seek help – remember he is only 17… and thank God because its nothing short of a miracle that he is still here with us today.

  • oandroplex700

    good story…