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’s possible, after her Apple Watch alerted her to a dire medical situation.
Nicole Hill, 19, is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The second is a former cheerleader and swimmer and considers herself very healthy but started feeling ill one night at the start of her fall semester.
“I noticed something was off,” Hill explained.
Hill texted her dad to let him know she wasn’t feeling well and was going to bed early to sleep. After about half an hour of sleep, her Apple Watch woke her up.
“He was vibrating and saying, ‘You have a high heart rate,'” Hill said. “It was 198.”
Hill texted her father who urged her to call the UNC nurse hotline. She told the nurse the heart rate reported by her Apple Watch, 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 drop to 40 to 60 beats per minute while a person is sleeping, with light exercise they can reach 120 or 130 beats per minute. and can get into the 200s with more rigorous exercise. Hill’s heart was near that 200 mark at rest.
Doctors diagnosed Hill with pneumonia, explaining that any lung disease can increase heart rate because the stress of being sick causes increases in adrenaline levels.
“I told them I woke up from this Apple Watch notification and they said ‘Wow, that’s such a blessing because if you had slept through all of this, who knows what would have happened,'” said Hill.
Kelly says this feature is 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 see people discovering a real medical problem through their cell phones,” he said.
A smartwatch heart rate alert isn’t always a serious cause for concern. Kelly recommends taking the results with a grain of salt and calling a doctor.
Hill tells WRAL Five on Your Side that she would never have woken up without the Apple Watch alert.
“It really saved my life,” Hill said.