Tracking My Heart Rate Helped Save My Life: One Woman’s Incredible Story

Photo: Janine Gelineau, courtesy of UConn Health

Two years ago Pat L., 74, got herself a Fitbit Charge HR as a retirement gift. “I’d been sitting at a desk staring at a computer for far too long and knew I was out of shape in more ways than one. I wanted a reminder to be active,” she says. Pat checked her step count regularly, and then several months ago she started paying attention to other numbers on her tracker as well: “I’d been feeling ill for a couple of weeks and noticed that my resting heart rate kept increasing. It was going up each day by about 5 points,” she says.

Confused and concerned, Pat saw her doctor. But several chest x-rays, heart monitoring tests, and other appointments later she still didn’t have an answer for why her pulse was racing. Then one morning last January, the Connecticut retiree found herself struggling even to walk the short distance down the hallway of her home, and her Charge HR showed that her heart rate had skyrocketed. She knew she was in trouble, and called 911

“The medic in the ambulance told me they were going to take me to emergency at UConn, where they had a state of the art cardiac center,” she says. At that point, lying down on a stretcher, she remembers that her heart rate was a whopping 140 beats per minute, well above what the American Heart Association recommends for vigorous exercise for folks 70 and over.

Within two hours, the problem had been diagnosed: Multiple blood clots in both of Pat’s lungs. Such clots, also called pulmonary embolisms, can cause heart attack or even sudden death.  Already, the extra strain being put on her heart had caused it to enlarge by 65 percent.

Pat and her doctor chose to move forward with a high-tech treatment that delivered strong clot-busting medicine directly into the lungs through an artery catheter in her leg. Within 24 hours, the clots were gone and her heart was well on its way to recovery.

Needless to say, Pat has never been more fond of her fitness tracker, and continues to wear it every day. “My doctor at UConn, JuYong Lee, said wearing my Fitbit tracker saved my life,” she says.

Pat’s Advice for Others

Don’t ignore your numbers. Because Pat had been paying attention to her tracking data, she knew that her usual resting heart rate hovered between 68 and 70, and was able to notice immediately when it started to change. “The real clue for me that something odd was going on was the fact that my Fitbit tracker kept showing that increase in resting heart rate,” she says.

Share your health story—you never know who it’ll help. “I know of four friends who went out and bought Fitbit trackers after hearing about what happened to me. One came up to me just a few weeks ago and said, ‘I owe you gratitude,’” says Pat. “When I asked why, he explained that he’d noticed something looked ‘off’ about his heart rate history and saw his doctor. Turns out, he had an undiagnosed problem with a heart valve.”

Move your body rain or shine. Now fully recovered, Pat is focusing on getting out in the garden as often as she can, making sure she’s getting enough sleep, and aiming for 3,500 steps a day. “I wear my Fitbit tracker 24-7. It tracks my sleep, I look at my resting heart rate almost every day. And if I’m low on steps and the weather’s bad, I’ll go to a department store nearby to walk indoors.”

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9 Comments   Join the Conversation

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • The same thing happened to me a year ago. I was suddenly having trouble breathing so I used my Blaze to monitor my heart rate, which was 110 at rest. After an hour with no change, we went to the ER. My lungs were filled with clots. It so important to know your baseline numbers!

  • Incredible device I wear mine 24hrs….just a bit puzzled why the chest X-ray did not reveal your enlarged heart…regards

  • My Fitbit Blaze saved my life

    Just two weeks after my 50th birthday, I awoke feeling as though I had the flu. I checked my Fitbit and my heart rate was 41. Normal for me is 55. Fortunately, my wife was home and we have a BP monitor so I checked and I was lower than normal. My wife took me to the ER and I was rushed in, after several tests it was determined I was in the middle of a heart attack and needed to go straight into the Cath lab. The Cardiologist found a 100% blockage of my corinary artery and placed a stent in to open up the blood flow.

    A year later I am back to all my normal activity and continue to monitor my HR using my Blaze. Thank you Fitbit!

  • Ihave een diagnosed with a stenotic aortic heart valve. I notice that when I get the tightness in my chest my heart rate is quite elevated. I would love to track averaage and maximum heart rate as well as at rest heart rate. Any way to do that? I have a Fitbit Charge 2.

  • I am a night shift ER doctor in Ohio.

    Last night a 74 on male came into see me with his only complaint being his fitbit showed a fast heartbeat.

    It’s a good thing he came in.

    He had a wide complex tachycardia and is now flying by helicopter to a level one heart center for possible cardiac intervention

    I may need to buy one of these for me sounds like a true life-saving device

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