‘It saved my life:’ Apple Watch alerts UNC student to alarming heart rate

It sends texts, delivers notifications and reminds you to get up and move around, but can a smartwatch save your life? A local woman says it sure can, after her Apple Watch alerted her to a dire medical situation.

Nicole Hill, 19, is student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The sophomore is a former cheerleader and swimmer and considers herself to be very healthy but started feeling sick one night early into her fall semester.

“I noticed something was just feeling a bit off,” Hill explained.

Hill texted her father letting him know she wasn’t feeling well and was going to bed early to sleep things off. About a half hour into her sleep, though, her Apple Watch woke her up.

“It was vibrating, and it said, ‘You have a high heart rate,’” Hill said. “It was 198.”

Hill texted her father who urged her to call the UNC nurse’s hotline. She told the nurse the heart rate her Apple Watch was reporting, and the nurse quickly told her to call 911.

Dr. Chris Kelly is a UNC Health cardiologist and told WRAL Five on Your Side that a resting heart rate can dip to 40 to 60 beats per minute while a person is sleeping, with light exercise it can rise to the 120 or 130 beats per minute and can enter the 200s with more rigorous exercise. Hill’s heart was near that 200 mark while resting.

Doctors diagnosed Hill with pneumonia, explaining that any lung disease can increase heart rate, as the stress of being sick causes surges in adrenaline levels.

“I told them that I woke up from this Apple Watch notification and they said ‘Wow, that is such a blessing because if you would’ve slept through this, who knows what would’ve happened,’” Hill said.

Once a futuristic notion, life-saving or -changing technology is available right now, from a device to improve your posture, to a prototype pain patch which uses low voltage electrical stimulation to alleviate chronic pain. But when it comes to getting the most for your money, Fitbit and Apple Watch win. Both can monitor glucose levels, skin temperature, track activity and alert you to an abnormal heart rate. They also can monitor your heart’s electrical signals by performing an electrocardiogram(ECG) which will record the timing and strength of the electrical signals that make your heartbeat.

Kelly says that feature is the most valuable to him and other cardiologists who can gain insight into a patient’s heart rhythm and look for irregularities by reviewing the ECG.

“Sometimes we do see people who discover a real medical problem through their wearable,” he said.

A smartwatch heart rate alert is not always a matter of serious concern. Kelly recommends taking the results with a grain of salt and calling a doctor.

Hill tells WRAL Five on Your Side that she never would’ve woken up if it weren’t for the Apple Watch alert.

“This really did save my life,” Hill said.

In addition to monitoring health, an Apple Watch can also be useful in the event of an emergency. It has something called Fall Detection which can sense if you’ve taken a spill and even connect you with 911. And if you’re out walking or running alone and sense danger you can activate Emergency SOS, by holding down the side button and one of the volume buttons until it appears.
You can slide the bar that pops up to call emergency services. If you continue to hold down the side button and volume button, instead of dragging the slider, a countdown begins and an alert sounds. This feature is also available on the iPhone.
You can also put important medical information in your Apple Watch, including emergency contacts. In the event that 911 is called through your app, the watch can then alert your emergency contacts that emergency services was contacted.

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