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Teen's Apple Watch may have saved her life

Deanna Recktenwald was just sitting in church when her Apple Watch alerted her that her resting heart rate was spiking.

Courtesy of the Recktenwald family

Deanna Recktenwald has always been athletic. She plays volleyball, cheerleads and has done gymnastics since she was 5 years old. So, when her Apple Watch alerted her that her resting heart rate had spiked to 190 while she was simply sitting in a pew at church, Recktenwald and her family were naturally skeptical. 

"The watch kept saying that Deanna's heart rate would go up to 140, then dip back down to 60, then go up to 140 again. Then it spiked to 190 and the watch vibrated on her arm, alerting her to seek medical attention," Deanna's father, Tom Recktenwald, tells CBS News. "My wife is a registered nurse, so she decided to check Deanna's pulse to see if all that was really happening. And when she did, the watch was spot on." 

Deanna's mother rushed her to an urgent care center, and when medical personnel checked her blood pressure, they discovered that it was a worrisome 150/99. That's when they sent the Recktenwalds to the emergency room at Tampa General Hospital for further testing.

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Deanna Recktenwald in a hospital bed at Tampa General Hospital.

Courtesy of the Recktenwald family

"They did all sorts of labs and an EKG, but what they ended up coming back with was more than just a heart problem. It was something underlying that we didn't know," Recktenwald tells CBS News. "She was in kidney failure. Her kidneys were only working at about 20 percent and we had no idea that they were failing."

After a biopsy, doctors determined that Deanna suffers from Alport syndrome, a genetic condition that causes the progressive loss of kidney function. And while the Apple Watch luckily alerted Deanna to the symptoms before she would have required emergency surgery, doctors say she will likely still need a kidney transplant in about five years. Tom Recktenwald says the whole family is currently getting tested to see which, if any, of them are viable candidates.

"I'm so thankful she had that watch on," he says. "She's going off to college in August, and the last thing I would want her to do is go off to college not knowing she had this underlying condition."

Deanna's mother, Stacy, was also overcome with gratitude over the hand her daughter's Apple Watch had played in saving her life. She searched the internet for an email address where she could thank Apple for what the watch had done, but her searches came up empty. So, the Recktenwalds sent a thank you message to their local Apple store instead.

"The next day, we got a personal email back from Tim Cook, thanking us," an incredulous Tom Recktenwald tells CBS News. "We were amazed. We really didn't think we were going to get any email back, let alone an email from the CEO of the company."

Cook also took to social media with a post that read, "Stories like Deanna's inspire us to dream bigger and push harder every day."

Tom Recktenwald says it gives him peace of mind, knowing that his daughter will have the Apple Watch on her wrist while she's away at college. Since she hardly experienced any symptoms the first time -- just a slight shortness of breath -- they feel better knowing that she at least has an omnipresent tool to alert her when there's reason to be concerned.

However, while the family may very well be the Apple Watch's biggest fans, Tom Recktenwald doesn't give the piece of equipment full credit for saving his daughter's life.

"It was a tool that saved her life, but we're a very Christian-based family," he says. "So, we know that God had a hand in this too."