Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib. This post was first published on August 6, 2017.
Atrial fib is responsible for all 3 of my pacemakers. Each year, approximately 200,000 pacemakers are implanted in the U.S. in patients who derive a clear benefit from pacing therapy, according to the American College of Cardiology.
My first pacemaker was an emergency procedure because my heart stopped for several seconds after hip replacement surgery. Just before, a temporary pacemaker was installed to keep my heart rate steady during surgery. After the temporary pacemaker was removed I went into atrial fib. I awoke in ICU. The next day pacemaker # 1 was installed and my medical history changed…for the better.
- My first pacemaker procedure was the longest because the 2 wires to connect the device to the heart had to be inserted, one in the right atrium and one in the right ventricle. A small incision was made just under the skin in the upper left chest to insert the pacemaker, about the size of a quarter. A technician from the device company (St. Jude) is always in the O.R. to hook up the wires to get it going. Most patients go home the same day but I was still recovering from hip surgery. Read details in Chapter 23 of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.
- Eight years later the 2nd pacemaker was installed. The whole device was changed, not just battery. The original wires connected the new device. Updates occur as pacemakers improve and accomplish more. This 2nd device was able to store heart data. Battery life and A-Fib activity were checked every couple of months by phone or in the clinic for a more thorough analysis
- Implantation of the 3rd pacemaker came 9 years later. Outpatient procedure took 3 hours including prep and recovery time. The original wires are still being used. Battery and A-Fib information is now recorded at a data center and checked through a wireless monitor the size of a 5 x 7 picture frame 6 feet from my bed. A small green light signals that all is well. If not, the light flashes and changes color. There’s a phone number in case I have questions.
More advanced pacemakers are already available, including wireless pacemakers and some that allow patients to have safe MRI tests. Without the pacemaker my heart rate is so low in the atrium that my pacemaker must work to pace me 100% of the time.
It’s probably keeping me alive. If it could make dinner, life would be perfect!
Learn more from my memoir IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib