BOSTON (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- More than 2 million Americans are living with either a pacemaker or defibrillator. While the battery-powered devices last up to 10 years, the wires -- or leads -- that connect the device to the heart are expected to last a lifetime. When these wires malfunction, leaving them behind can have consequences on your health. Doctors have a new way to remove these dangerous leads.
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In 2000, doctors replaced Rita St. Thomas' pacemaker but left behind the leads.
"I'd first get the chills," St. Thomas told Ivanhoe. "Then I would get a temperature."
That fatigued feeling lasted for years -- until St. Thomas found Dr. Laurence Epstein, an electrophysiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass. He believes the leads left behind became infected.
"Unfortunately, that became the setup she had for this chronic infection," Dr. Epstein told Ivanhoe.
Doctors are often reluctant to remove the wires because it can be difficult. Scar tissue often forms around the wires, making them hard to remove.
"The patient would be lying in bed, and there would be this rope pulling on the lead," Dr. Epstein said. "Eventually, they figured out ways to try and free the leads up more directly."
But Dr. Epstein says the newest procedure using an excimer laser to ablate the scar tissue makes it easier to get the wires out. He places a hollow flexible tube over the embedded wires. It contains optical fibers that transmit pulses of energy. When he encounters scar tissues, he fires the laser, dissolving the scar tissues and freeing the wires.
"The real advantage of the laser sheath -- it allows us to cut through scar tissue in a much more controlled setting, and I think safe and more effective manner," Dr. Epstein said.h
St. Thomas is now free of wires and free of infection.
"There really wasn't any pain after I had it out, and I was nice and comfortable," she said.
Dr. Epstein says hopefully, this will reduce the number of patients subjected to open-heart procedures and the risks and complications of abandoned leads. He says excellent results are achieved through careful preparation, planning and experience.
The American Association of Physicists in Medicine contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
More than two million Americans are living with either a pace maker or defibrillator. The wires connect to these life-saving devices could be deadly. We’ll show you what doctors are doing to remove these dangerous leads.