WJLA) - Leo Matheny and his family were at his favorite Chinese restaurant in Culpeper, when suddenly everything went dark.
"I was in that chair right there," he points out. "I was feeling kind of off but I wasn't feeling bad..."
And his doctor explains it the reason why: Leo’s heart went into ventricular fibrillation at that dinner table, a situation in which the heart essentially stops squeezing and ceases to work.
"My 69th birthday could have been my last," says Matheny. "I am just grateful and thankful that I had the vest on because it saved my life."
Appropriately called a life vest, the accessory shocked Matheny’s heart back into a normal rhythm; his cardiologist had fitted him with it while waiting to insert a permanent defibrillator. Dr. Maghouzdi didn’t want to take any chances with Matheny’s congestive heart failure.
"This can be used on young people, old people, and it gives them protection and it gives us actual peace of mind," the doctor says.
"They said, 'let's put this life vest on you; I said, 'what is that I didn't even know they had such a thing,'” says Matheny. Two weeks later, he found out.
"I didn't feel a thing -- things just started getting dark," he says about that night.
At the birthday dinner, Matheny slipped out of his chair unconscious and onto the floor – on the verge of cardiac arrest; 33 seconds later, the vest delivered the shock that saved his life.
"They said I jumped when I got that shock," he says.
When Matheny opened his eyes, a restaurant employee was standing over him calling 911.
"I stood up and I said, 'cancel that call I am not going to the hospital,'" says Matheny. "My wife says, 'yes you are!' I said, 'no I am not going to the hospital, I am going to go get dessert.'"
His wife won that argument, and Matheny went to the hospital and wore the life vest right up until surgery when he received the permanent defibrillator.
"I have always had a zest for living, but now I take more time for my friends and family," says Matheny.
"The dessert I almost didn't have," he adds.
About 100,000 patients nationwide have used the life vest that gave Matheny his second chance. Mathey’s doctor says that so far, it has saved the lives of three of his patients.