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New device shocks to prevent cardiac arrest

February 2, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
In the U.S., sudden cardiac arrest kills more than 325,000 people each year. Defibrillators implanted in high-risk patients can save lives. The devices have their own inherent risk. Now a new wireless system could make this life-saving technology available to more Americans.

Anthony Quadrino, 66, credits his daughter for saving his life. He felt some mild chest pain in 2009. He was going to ignore it. Then his daughter happened to call.

"She gets me on the phone and she goes, 'If you don't call 911, I'm calling them,'" said Anthony.

Even in the emergency room, Anthony didn't believe anything was wrong.

His doctor said: "'You're going through a heart attack as we speak.' My eyes opened up like a fish."

The attack reduced Anthony's heart function down to 20 percent. At any time, Anthony is at higher risk for an electrical short that could seize his heart.

"These patients are so high-risk for having cardiac arrest, we actually would like to plant a defibrillator inside their body to rescue them should they have the episode," Dr. Shephal Doshi, director of cardiac electrophysiology at St. John's Health Center.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD. It involves surgically placing a wire in the heart that shocks it if it beats out of control.

"Placing a wire into the heart has its own inherent risks," said Doshi.

Over time scar tissue would form over the wire, and if it fractured or malfunctioned, it would be a complicated procedure to remove it.

"We are looking at ways to improve the success rate of the procedure and also reduce the complication rate," said Doshi.

Doshi is investigating the S-ICD device that sits right under the skin. And so far, Anthony is one of 170 Americans who chose to try it.

If needed, the wireless system can send a shock to the heart just like an external defibrillator.

"Instead of wires going directly to the heart, this is just like 'pow'!" said Anthony.

"And in the future if you could put a less-risky device doing a less-risky procedure and have the same benefit, it makes a lot of logical sense," said Doshi.

The S-ICD is routinely used in Europe and Australia, but it's not indicated for patients who need a pacemaker.

For Anthony, knowing he's got backup gives him peace of mind.

"Psychologically I feel 99 percent better," said Anthony.

Doshi says for every seven ICDs implanted. One actually will be used to send a life-saving shock.

Again, the S-ICD device is not yet FDA-approved.