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Utahn Tests Smaller, Wireless Pacemakers

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Judy Fahys
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KUER News

Intermountain Medical Center in Murray is one of 50 hospitals nationwide involved in a research trial for next-generation pacemakers.  Last month one of its doctors implanted the new, wireless device in a grandmother from Logan.

Susan Thomas doesn’t think of herself as a pioneer, but she became one last month as the first person in the Intermountain West to try out the cutting edge pacemaker. Thomas says she used to grab a grocery cart to lean on as soon as she got to the store because irregular heartbeats would leave her breathless and tired. But that was before she got the new pacemaker two weeks ago.

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Credit Courtesy: / Intermountain Medical Center
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Intermountain Medical Center

“It’s just been a lifesaver,” says Thomas. “I mean, I know it’s there, but I really don’t even feel this. It’s just part of my body now. And the hope is that I can become stronger because I can do the rehab and do more walking and that kind of thing.

Thomas is one of around 670 people who are part of a Food and Drug Administration trial of the Nanostim leadless pacemaker. It’s about one-tenth the size of the 4 million rhythm-management devices that are in use worldwide.

The new one is inserted through a vein in the groin. And the post-operation recovery is simpler because there are no wires going from the device to the heart muscle.

“These are the future of pacemakers,” says IMC cardiologist Jared Bunch, who gave Thomas the device on July 28. “I imagine in 10 to 15 years, the traditional pacemakers that use these wires in the vessels that go through the heart will look more antiquated. So, it’s exciting. This is a paradigm shift with devices. They’re less invasive. They’re less prone to complications. They can do what the current devices do. And right now the batteries even last longer. So we’re seeing multiple positives with them.”

Bunch says that heart rhythm problems affect about 10 percent of the population and that tens of thousand of Utahns could someday be using technology like this. 

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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