World’s Smallest Pacemaker Available to Wake Forest Baptist Patients

February 20, 2017

Dolores Van Vorst loves to cook. From cheesecake to the special cookies for her grandchildren and great grandchildren, there is no recipe she is not willing to tackle.

But late last year, the 79-year-old Salisbury resident could tell that something was zapping her energy. She became tired easily and often felt dizzy.

Van Vorst thought the symptoms might be due to the breast cancer that she is being treated for at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

But the cause of her fatigue was neither cancer nor chemotherapy. It was her heart.

Doctors at Wake Forest Baptist’s Heart and Vascular Center diagnosed Van Vorst’s problem as bradycardia, an abnormally slow heart rate that can cause fatigue, dizziness and fainting spells and lead to heart failure. She was told that she would need a pacemaker to treat the condition, but she worried that the pacemaker implanted in her chest would be too big and interfere with her daily routine.

However, Van Vorst did not get a conventional pacemaker. Instead, she received a miniature wireless pacemaker recently approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The new pacemaker, just an inch long, is called the Micra Transcatheter Pacing System. About 93 percent smaller than traditional devices, it is the world’s smallest pacemaker and the first “leadless” device of its type to be approved for use in the United States.

Pacemakers are surgically implanted devices that monitor heart rate and generate electrical impulses to treat irregular or slow heartbeats. Conventional pacemakers are placed under the skin near the collarbone and connected to the heart by lead wires running through a vein.

The Micra’s smaller size, however, allows it to be implanted directly in the heart’s right ventricle in a minimally invasive procedure. This eliminates the lead wires and the problems associated with them, which can include infection and interference with other medical treatments such as chemotherapy and diagnostic tests such as MRIs.

“Slow heartbeat is increasingly common as people age, and it can be compounded by medications used to treat other problems,” said Patrick Whalen, M.D., director of cardiac electrophysiology at Wake Forest Baptist. “The Micra and devices like it will change how we treat patients with slow heartbeats.”

Wake Forest Baptist is the only hospital in the region currently offering the Micra pacemaker.

“Many cardiology patients are limited in terms of their quality of life because of their illness,” said David Zhao, M.D., chief of cardiovascular medicine and executive director of Wake Forest Baptist’s Heart and Vascular Center. “The new Micra pacemaker is an example of how advances in technology give us another tool that can quickly benefit these patients.”

As for Van Vorst, who was the first Wake Forest Baptist patient to receive the device following its approval by the FDA, she said recently that her new pacemaker works just fine. She hasn’t had a single episode of weakness or dizziness, and she is able to receive standard treatment for her breast cancer.

It is also good news for her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She is back in the kitchen, cooking up goodies for them.

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