Wireless pacemaker offers lifeline to doctor

Wireless pacemaker offers lifeline to doctor

Phyllis Hughes felt tired all the time.

The Ashland woman charged it off to recent knee-replacement surgery, but months after she came home from the hospital she still was taking two or three naps a day.

One day her partner, Bob Baures, connected her to a heart monitor he uses when he runs. They were both shocked when her heart clocked in around 40 beats per minute. Besides being abnormally slow, her heart was beating irregularly, too, sometimes pausing for several seconds between beats.

That made Hughes, who turns 76 this week, an ideal candidate for a pacemaker to establish a regular heart rhythm. She's one of the first local patients to receive a new kind of pacemaker with a wireless monitoring system that automatically sends information about her heart rhythm to her physician's computer.

"The main thing about (the new pacemaker) is we can monitor patients without them coming into the office," said Dr. James Cook, an interventional cardiologist at Providence Medford Medical Center, who implanted Hughes' pacemaker.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the device in July. It's also being used by the cardiologists who work at Rogue Valley Medical Center and physicians around the United States.

The pacemaker will send an e-mail message to the physician if there's a cardiac abnormality that needs attention.

"If a patient's rhythm changes and we think it needs to be addressed urgently, then we can bring them in," Cook said.

Pacemakers have been around since the 1950s. More than 3 million people around the world have pacemakers, and about 600,000 are implanted every year.

The devices have become smaller and lighter with innovations in technology, but patients always had to visit their physician for a checkup or connect themselves to a monitoring device that sent information to the doctor. Hughes' pacemaker sends data to a transmitter that transfers the information to her computer, and from there it goes to Cook via the Internet. The only thing she will need to do to transmit data is to be in the same room with the transmitter device and her computer.

Cook said the new technology will be a big boost for rural patients or people on the coast who would have to drive for hours to get to Medford for a checkup.

The device will help doctors work more efficiently, Cook said. If a patient has to come in for a checkup, the physician already has all the data. Appointments will take less time, freeing doctors and nurses to see other patients.

Hughes' pacemaker is about 2 inches in diameter and a quarter-inch thick, so it's barely noticeable in her chest. It weighs less than 1 ounce. St. Jude Medical Inc., headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., makes the device. Cook said other medical technology companies will likely soon offer a similar product.

"They're always within a nose of each other," he said.

A St. Jude spokeswoman declined to reveal the cost of the device. Medicare paid for most of Hughes' procedure.

Hughes said she felt more energy as soon as her pacemaker started working. She can tell the difference in her workouts at the Ashland YMCA.

"I'm enjoying it," she said, "instead of using my will power to get through it every day."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail

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