Apple Watch helps woman discover heart tumor — turn this feature on now

Apple Watch 7 heart rate monitor
(Image credit: Future)

Kim Durkee, a 67-year-old woman from Solon, Maine, was woken three nights in a row by her Apple Watch buzzing on her wrist, along with alerts that she appeared to have an irregular heart rhythm. Durkee said she assumed the alerts must have been wrong, as she didn’t feel breathless, or like her heart was racing. On the third night, she decided to check.

Apple’s heart rate notifications can help wearers spot possible issues with their heart health. When enabled, the notifications alert users when they're experiencing high or low heart rates, as well as irregular heart rhythms. If you know how to use your Apple Watch, you might even have heart rate alerts turned on already, if not, read on to find out how to activate these. 

Talking to TODAY, Durkee said she purchased an Apple Watch two years ago to monitor her steps, and so that she could use the fall detection feature to get help in an emergency.  “I didn’t have one single hint that there was something wrong in my body, not one”, she said. Durkee said her doctors said she was “like a silent time bomb.”

After the third night of her watch waking her, Durkee went to the emergency room and told the doctor her Apple Watch had told her to get checked. “And he looked at me, like, ‘Really, your watch told you you have AFib?’ Everybody in the hospital was amazed. I was like the talk of the hospital,” she said. “He did some tests and he said, ‘Your watch is right, you’re in AFib.’”

The irregular heart rhythm Durkee was alerted to suggested atrial fibrillation, or AFib — a condition where the upper chambers of the heart aren’t coordinated with the lower chambers, causing the heart to beat too slowly, too quickly, or irregularly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This can lead to blood clots, stroke, and heart failure, the American Heart Association warn

Doing some scans of Durkee’s heart, the doctors found a non-cancerous tumor growing in her left atrium, which was diagnosed as myxoma. The condition is extremely rare, but can be life-threatening if it interferes with heart function. This is what was happening in Durkee’s case, as the tumor was in the way of her heart’s normal rhythm. 

Durkee is currently recovering from five hours of open heart surgery to remove the tumor. When she asked her doctor what would have happened if she hadn’t been wearing the watch, he said the tumor would likely have resulted in a stroke. “I believe it (saved my life) 100%,” she said. “It never comes off. … It’s like my security guard.”

How to turn Apple Watch heart health notifications on 

how to turn heart rate notifications on the Apple Watch on

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

But how do you turn on Apple Watch health notifications for yourself? Go to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, tap ‘My Watch’ then scroll down to ‘Heart’. From here you should set up your ECG app to look for signs of atrial fibrillation, if you have an eligible Apple Watch. The Apple Watch 4 through Apple Watch 7 all have an ECG reader, but the Apple Watch SE does not.

Next, you should turn on cardio fitness notifications, which assess your cardio fitness and notify you when it's low. Lastly, enable irregular heart rate notifications. 

An Apple Watch has recently helped save a dentist's life with its heart rate monitoring function, and helped a nursing student make this alarming discovery. So there's really no excuse to not be receiving health notifications from your Apple Watch. It could be a real lifesaver.  

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.