Doctors are calling a first-of-its kind wireless pacemaker a game changer, saying the newly-approved device will help keep heart patients alive.
Barry Lawrence, a 77-year-old Orange County resident, became one of the first in the country to receive the new pacemaker.
From high-powered boats to high stakes motorsports, Lawrence loves speed, but his heart just couldn't keep up.
"My heart rate was 22 beats per minute, and I went down pretty hard. All of a sudden, I mean, I've never experienced anything like that," he said.
Lawrence's heart wasn't beating fast enough to get blood to his brain. After a few episodes of passing out after standing up, electrophysiologist Dr. Brian Kim determined he needed a pacemaker right away.
At Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Lawrence became the very first patient on the West Coast to receive a new type of wireless cardiac pacing device: Abbott's Aveir Leadless Dual Chamber Pacemaker.
"One in the upper chamber and one in the lower chamber entirely without leads," Kim described the device.
The two devices, smaller than triple-A batteries, communicate through electrical pulses to make sure every beat stays in sync.
"The heart should be contracting in a natural way," said Kim.
Conventional pacemakers, which are usually inserted under the chest, would noticeably bulge out and require the placement of leads or wires on the heart muscle.
"And these electrical wires would sometimes break or get infected," Kim said.
During the 30-minute procedure, doctors attach the devices to the heart walls in each chamber through a catheter in the groin.
The devices last 10 to 15 years. After that, doctors can simply insert another set.
Lawrence was able to go home a few hours after the procedure. Kim said the next day he could swim or play sports if he wanted to.
"And that's why I feel like I'm ready to play rugby again," said Lawrence.
Kim said because this leadless pacemaker works in both chambers of the heart, he expects it will revolutionize the industry.
"I think this is going to be the beginning of a paradigm shift," he said.
Right now, this pacemaker is covered by Medicare for patients with slow heart rates. Other insurance coverage is pending.
After years of slowing down, Lawrence said he's going to pick up the pace and get back to racing.
"This is really amazing. I would never have imagined this," he said.