TRAVERSE CITY: Breakthrough technology now allows certain heart patients at Munson Medical Center to receive a tiny pacemaker. And it arrives via catheter, not surgery. Munson Medical Center’s cardiologist is the first in northern Michigan to implant the device.

Webber Heart Center cardiologist John Varner, D.O., FACC, currently is the only cardiologist in northern Michigan performing the procedure.

“Technically it is the world’s smallest pacemaker. It’s probably a little bigger than a .22-caliber shell,” he said. “What’s great for patients is that the risk of infection is negligible. This device is completely within the heart and the body puts a layer of cells over it so that within three months the risk of infection is zero.”

Dr. Varner said infections pose an ongoing risk for traditional pacemaker patients who receive the device through a surgical implant procedure. Typically, the device sits in a pocket under the left collarbone and leads providing electrical stimulation go under the collarbone and into a blood vessel leading to the heart.

With Medtronic’s FDA-approved Micra™ Transcather Pacing System, the device is delivered by a catheter through the femoral vein in the groin area into the right ventricle of the heart. Specially designed prongs attach the device to the heart wall. There are no leads, no chest bump, scar, or other indication of a pacemaker.

During a 725-patient global trial, Medtronic reported there was a 99.2 percent implant success rate, zero dislodgments, and zero infections.

One of the first two patients Dr. Varner implanted at Munson Medical Center was William Dursum, 80, of Traverse City. He was initially scheduled for a standard pacemaker to deal with his bradycardia-tachycardia syndrome that gave him a slow heartbeat and then a rapid heartbeat. He’s thankful Dr. Varner offered the new device.

“I feel great. The procedure was wonderful. He explained it to me and gave me the option and I said ‘go ahead,’” Dursum says. “I just spoke with a friend who is 88 who just had the replacement in his chest of an old-style pacemaker and he said, ‘I am in pain.’ I have had no pain whatsoever.”

Because his pacemaker was delivered by catheter through the groin, Dursum says his limitations extended only for a few days. “I could drive after two days and get back to snow blowing two days after that. This is unbelievable. I am sure there are going to be a lot more people doing this.”

Dr. Varner estimates about 100 patients a year will be eligible for the device, which is designed to stimulate one chamber of the heart. The majority of people requiring a pacemaker need one that affects both chambers.

After inserting the Micra device, Dr. Varner says he checks to ensure how well the device detects the heartbeat, how much electricity it takes to make the heartbeat, and how easily the device transfers electrical signal into the heart muscle. It can be redeployed if it does not meet criteria. Typical battery life is 12 years.

“The implant procedure itself takes about 25 minutes to a half hour,” Dr. Varner says. “I don’t envision it taking any longer.”

Dr. Varner received special training in Florida to be able to implant the device. Patients with a Micra are safe to undergo an MRI scan.

While the devices may cost more than a typical pacemaker, Dr. Varner believes it will cut down on health costs when one considers the reduction in the need for follow-up care, including infections, broken leads, etc. “To have more than 50 percent fewer complications with this device is priceless,” he says.

Dursum agrees. He would recommend it, as well as the care he received at Webber Heart Center, to others.

“It was phenomenal,” he says.

– Press Release provided by Munson Medical Center

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