Watch CBS News

Student-athlete's smartwatch use helps doctors diagnose heart ailments

Peninsula student-athlete's smartwatch use helps doctors diagnose heart ailments
Peninsula student-athlete's smartwatch use helps doctors diagnose heart ailments 06:33

Irregular heart rhythms benched a dedicated high school basketball player until his doctor and family used a smartwatch to help diagnose and create a plan to treat his condition. 

The innovative approach has led to a study encouraging more use of the wearable tech, and research with more patients at Stanford Children's Health.

"It was scary at first, especially not knowing what was wrong," said 15-year-old Connor Heinz, a freshman at Menlo-Atherton High School. 

He first started having episodes a couple years ago. 

"I was jumping on the trampoline and I just felt, like, this crazy pounding from my heart. I had no clue what was going on," Heinz remembered. "I went inside and, like, kind of just laid on the couch and it ended after about 20 minutes."

The family tried a temporary heart monitor, but it would not stay on. He also had episodes that were months apart, making the standard medical device ineffective in capturing readings of his heart rhythms.

"It happened again, and then it kept getting more frequent. So then we knew something was wrong," he told KPIX. "When I was playing basketball and I had an episode, it would kind of just like take my breath away and make it hard for me to keep going."

Dr. Scott Ceresnak, a pediatric cardiologist at Stanford Children's Health, suggested that Connor's mother use her smartwatch and have him wear it. They brought the smartwatch wherever they went and it confirmed Ceresnak's initial diagnosis: Heinz had supraventricular tachycardi, or SVT.

"It gave me a sense of control when the episode came on, that I was able to help him, sit with him, get the reading and have the answers," said Amy Heinz, Connor's mother.

As the episodes became more regular and it affected Heinz's ability to play basketball, his family decided to go through with a surgery to treat the condition. Medication is an option, but given its effects on making an athlete like him tired, they opted with the procedure last spring.

"Hearing the word surgery was pretty scary for me, but then once the doctor talked me through it and stuff, it made me feel a lot better," Heinz said.

The surgery was a success, and now Connor is on his high school's JV team as a freshman. He is able to keep up the tradition in the family, as his older brother is also on the team.

"He mentioned to Connor, 'You know, you're a part of history.' And so it's been really fun for him to feel like he can, his experience is something that will help other kids out there who are going through the same thing," Amy Heinz recalled the doctor telling her son.

A study published by Stanford Children's Health last December demonstrated how smartwatches can help doctors detect and diagnose irregular heart rhythms in children. Dr. Ceresnak said he was surprised by how often standard monitoring didn't pick up rhythms that the watches did. 

There will be further study this year, with the hope that algorithms will be designed for smartwatches based on the data collected from children.

"It's just so much better that I can, like, do the things that I enjoy without having any worries," Heinz said about his health after his treatment of this condition. "It might be scary, but it will always get better."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.