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Duke trial introducing smaller, wireless pacemakers

Posted May 28, 2015
Updated May 29, 2015

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— Pacemakers have long been used to help patients with heart rhythm issues get back to normal, but a trial at Duke University Hospital is testing wireless pacemakers that are smaller than a AAA battery.

John Locklear, a 69-year-old from Robeson County, was one of the first patients to receive a newer model pacemaker.

Last year, Locklear began having dizzy spells. He also lacked energy.

"He would sit down a few minutes, get up, try to do something and sit down again," Judy Locklear, his wife, said.

Locklear's doctor referred him to Duke, where he learned his heart was stopping for as long as eight seconds at a time. Not long after, Locklear received a new heartbeat thanks to a trial pacemaker.

Patients in the Duke trial have received one of two models – Nanotism and Micra. Both devices are placed inside the heart by way of a catheter that is inserted through the femoral artery.

"These offer very similar features to an existing device in a much smaller package," Duke Hospital electrophysiologist Brett Atwater said.

Both devices use tiny hooks to attach to heart tissue. Like standard pacemakers, they can be adjusted and monitored by a physician with an outside device.

Replacing them does not involve incisions or pulling out leads from a heart artery.

"One of the main goals of these is to eliminate the incision and the risks of infection and bleeding at the incision site," Atwater said.

Locklear said the procedure was simple.

"It was so easy, I didn't know I had it," he said.

Soon after getting the pacemaker, Locklear had his energy back. A few weeks ago, the new device got a major test when Locklear's 45-year-old son had a heart attack during a fishing trip.

"All I could do was pray to God, 'Do not take my son,'" he said.

Locklear's son is now fine and in heart rehab.

"If I hadn't gotten this pacemaker, it would have probably been two heart attacks instead of one," Locklear said.

Duke is one of 50 locations in the world, and the only one in the state, conducting the pacemaker trial. Anyone interested in participating in the trial should call the research coordinator at 919-681-9772 to see if they may be eligible.

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