Health Team

Implant can warn of heart attacks

An experimental heart implant could warn patients when they are about to experience a heart attack.

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Heart attacks hit more than 1 million Americans each year. Many experience no warnings signs, and hundreds of thousands die before getting to a hospital.

An experimental heart implant, though, could warn patients when they are about to have a heart attack.

Bruce Fisher, 59, was among those who did not experience warnings signs before a heart attack. He was healthy, active and enjoying retirement, then, a heart attack struck.

"These are people that don't have the natural responses that regular people have. They don't get chest pains or chest tightness," said Dr. Omid Vahdat, a heart surgeon in Long Beach, Calif.

After undergoing quintuple bypass surgery, Fisher decided to take part in an ongoing study of the implant.

Using a wire, surgeons attached a pacemaker-sized implant to his heart. It monitors the heart's electrical, or EKG, activity for changes that occur before a heart attack.

When it detects changes, the implant vibrates in the patient's heart and pages them to either call their doctor or call 911. Then it sends EKG information to their doctor's computer.

"It's kind of like an On-Star warning device," Fisher said.

AngelMed, the maker of the implant, started clinical trials after hearing from heart patients who were worried about having another heart attack.

"It can be debilitating where you don't want to leave your home. You don't want to be far away from your doctor's office," said AngelMed representative Nick Nudell. "So a system like this can provide peace of mind."

Fourteen hospitals in the U.S. are participating in the clinical trial, but none in North Carolina.