For most, the heart rate sensors on our smartwatches and wearables, sometimes even on smartphones, are more of an extra feature for health enthusiasts and those with active lifestyles. For 17 year old Paul Houle Jr. of Tabor Academy in Cape Cod, it was a literal lifesaver. The heart rate monitor on his newly purchased Apple Watch alerted him to the fact that there might be something wrong with his heart rate. Luckily, instead of just attributing it to a faulty sensor, His trainer and school nurse verified the reading and then rushed the teen to the hospital, saving his life in the process.
On that faithful day of September 8, Houle, Jr. took a reading from his Apple Watch, showing a normal heart rate of 60 to 70 beats per minute. Then he went off for two football practices in one day, resulting in an expected 145 heart rate. However, at 7:30 in the evening, his heart rate hasn’t gone down yet and he was starting to experience back pain. He casually mentioned it to head trainer Brian Torres, who then proceeded to measure the heart rate the manual way, confirming it was still that high. The school nurse confirmed this abnormal status and took Houle to the hospital.
There, he was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a syndrome that is caused by muscle injury, where the protein myoglobin is released into the blood, causing the liver, heart, and kidneys to shut down. The back pain Houle experienced was due to the kidneys unable to remove the waste and urine caused by the protein. In some extreme cases, this causes the damaged muscle to die, which would lead to amputation. In the worst case scenario, had Houle left his situation unattended and went to practice the next day, we would have died.
This, however, is not an anecdote to view the Apple Watch, or any consumer device with a heart rate sensor, as a replacement for an actual medical instrument or professional diagnosis. The Apple Watch was indeed instrumental in keeping the teen aware of his condition. Fortunately, he had the good sense to inform his superiors about it and they too had the sense to double check the readings independently. Wearables have definitely given us more tools to become more conscious of our bodies and our health but when in doubt, it always pays to consult a health care professional.