Cary, N.C. — A Cary man said he wonders if he's set some kind of record for the number of pacemakers he's had for his heart.
Bob Kimball has had five of them. The heart has a natural pacemaker called the "sinus node," which speeds up or slows down the heart rate depending on the demands of the body. When the sinus node fails, and the heart beats too slowly or too rapidly, the person may need an artificial, implanted pacemaker.
These devices have kept Kimball’s heart strong for 33 years. As a piano shop owner, he keeps up with the beat of the music while his pacemaker keeps up the beat of his heart.
While stationed in Japan during the Vietnam War, he noticed unusual fatigue. Doctors discovered his heart beat was slow and not speeding up when he needed it.
“I was trying to use energy that was simply not there,” Kimball said.
At age 24, he got his first pacemaker.
“This was back when they were first getting started. It was huge,” Kimball said.
Pacemakers are implanted under the skin of the chest with a wire leading down to the heart's upper or lower right chamber or both. The doctor sets the pacemaker at a rate suited to the patient's needs. They last, on average, seven to 10 years.
Kimball’s pacemakers worked so well that he needed new pacemakers set to keep up with his ever increasing activity. He had taken up cycling as a low impact way to exercise.
“(In) 2001, I got my fourth pacemaker and they set it at 185 because bike riding was just doing wonders. My heart was even stronger than ever before,” Kimball said.
He also gradually changed his diet by “just cutting back, not eating as much.” He ate more fish and chicken, no fried foods and very little red meat.
“My blood work for each physical I have every year is above perfect,” he said.
Kimball is now on his fifth pacemaker at age 57 and is living a more healthy and active life than he ever dreamed of when first diagnosed. He just does what he wants to do without thinking about the device wired to his heart.
“It's not even a part of life. It's just there. But if it wasn't there, I wouldn't be here,” he said.