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.