How New Cardiac Implants Can Save 10,000 Lives a Year - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because millions receiving cardiac implants are at risk of (potentially fatal) infections, but this innovation could be a game-changer.

By Nick Fouriezos

The night before her surgery, Bea White, a 19-year-old Palo Alto native and biochemistry student at Foothill College in California, covered herself in an antibacterial liquid to reduce the risk of infection. “I touched my upper left chest,” she wrote in April, recounting the experience for a Stanford medical blog, “knowing it would never feel the same once the pacemaker was inside.”

Heart disease remains the largest cause of death in the United States. And globally, more than 1.5 million people get cardiac implants annually, with a large majority of them being elderly folks (the average age of recipients is around 75 years old, although there are also plenty, like White, who are younger). But while these patients worry about their irregular heartbeats and hope a pacemaker will help, there is another concern attached to the surgical process — the risk of infection. Studies have shown that up to 4 percent of implant patients, or 60,000 patients each year, develop an infection, which can lead to hospital stays lasting weeks and costing tens of thousands of dollars. And up to 17 percent of patients, or 10,000 a year, who contract such infections can die.

Using the antibiotic envelope led to an additional 40 percent reduction in major device-related infection.

Khaldoun Tarakji, researcher, Cleveland Heart Clinic

Now, innovators are creating a novel way to reduce infection risk: antibiotic envelopes that — when wrapped around cardiac electronic implant devices (CIEDs) — ensure that patients won’t become infected. At least two such envelopes — one called the TYRX and the other CanGaroo — have received FDA approval and hit the market. And researchers at Emory University have shown that these envelopes work, as have scientists at the Cleveland Heart Clinic and others.

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“Using the antibiotic envelope led to an additional 40 percent reduction in major device-related infection during the first year after implantation. And we saw no increase in complications with the use of the envelope, indicating that it is safe to use,” said Khaldoun Tarakji, a cardiac electrophysiology expert in Cleveland who led a study on the effects of the envelope involving nearly 7,000 patients across 25 countries.

That’s great news for those receiving cardiac implants, many of whom, if they can avoid infection and other complications, can live fully functional lives.

Not long after her surgery, White says the implant has been an overwhelmingly positive change in her life: allowing her to stand up without feeling lightheaded, work out without seeing stars and generally feel full of energy, like the rest of her college classmates. She even named her pacemaker Nomi, short for metronome, the device that helps musicians say on beat.

“My mental health is completely different from the first time I stepped in the hospital. I have more confidence and consistent happiness,” she wrote.

That sort of peace of mind makes it easier for patients like her to find that their risk of infection now may also be a thing of the past.

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