After I checked in the other day on Facebook, while at the KP Pacemaker Clinic for an update on my device’s performance, I noticed a lot of my friends aren’t exactly familiar with what all this means. Please allow me to explain what is happening and how my device works.
I have known for decades I had an electrical problem with my heart. My doctor told me a long time ago I had a right bundle branch block, which I could live with indefinitely or which could kill me in short order. I never let it bother me and figured I would live my life as best I could and not worry about dropping dead.
At the beginning of this year I started noticing I was having problems with heartbeat irregularities and I contacted my doctor. To make a long story short, it became apparent I was experiencing bradycardia (slow heartbeat). One of the diagnostic tools used was what is called a Holter Monitor (it’s a heart monitor, which I wore pasted to my chest for seven days). One night my pulse rate dropped to 26 BPM; not dead, but awfully slow.
After a telephone consultation with a cardiologist—now MY cardiologist—to go over the results of the Holter Monitor and blood tests, we decided a pacemaker might be indicated. That was February 27. Between then and March 3 I had trouble walking from the bedroom to the kitchen, or from the family room to my car, without requiring a moment or three to recover from a feeling of utter exhaustion. I couldn’t fathom living like that for long, so I called my cardiologist to discuss what was going on. I wasn’t scheduled for a consultation on my test results until late March, but that wasn’t acceptable to me. He indicated he had a surgical opening the following Wednesday, March 8, and I agreed to the procedure.
On the morning of March 8, I checked in to the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Woodland Hills, CA and the procedure was performed later that afternoon. I had a Boston Scientific Accolade MRI pacemaker implanted in my chest, just below my left collarbone. The device is about 25% bigger in diameter than a silver dollar, and three times as thick. It’s a nice size chunk of metal I’m still getting used to. It consists of a dual-core processor with 512KB of RAM, a large battery, and two leads – one to my right Atrium and one to my right Ventricle. It is programmed to send an electrical signal to “pace” my heart when it drops below 60 beats per minute. I also have a communication device that sits next to my bed that receives data from the pacemaker and transmits it through a dedicated cell connection to the pacemaker clinic at Kaiser. The pacemaker is also programmed to recognize when my heart rate rises above 130 bpm, at which point the device by my bed (it’s called a “latitude” and is also from Boston Scientific) will notify the clinic.
Two weeks after the surgery, I want for my first device checkup at the clinic. The Nurse Practitioner who manages the clinic advised me that my latitude was communicating properly and she had received data from it. She also told me that my right ventricle was being paced 100% of the time, but my right atrium was being paced far less. She reprogrammed the algorithm in my pacemaker right there (I didn’t feel a thing) and increased the timing between atrial contraction and ventricular contraction. Before I left she informed me my heart was beating on its own.
She also told me the battery indicated it would last for 12 years, but since she had changed the algorithm that would likely change and we would know more the next time I came in. That was last Wednesday, May 24. At that visit I was informed my heart is being “paced” about 40% of the time and that the battery now appears it will last for 15 years.
As of now I will only need to go in to the clinic once a year. I’m feeling good, at least as good as one can expect after almost 76 years of heavy use. So if I use up the remaining battery life—assuming it lasts as long as it predicts—I should make it to 91. Of course, that’s assuming nothing else gets me first, and there are quite a few other things that I have to be careful about. Regardless, I’m thankful I’m reasonably energetic and my brain seems to function as well as it ever has, despite the wear and tear of my party animal past. Life is good, and every moment is precious to me – more now than ever.