Pre-owned pacemakers offer novel way to save lives

DAVIE, Fla. – Every year in the U.S., 200,000 pacemakers are implanted in people with weakened hearts.

These devices extend life expectancy for many, but they are often discarded when someone with a pacemaker dies. 

That's why the University of Michigan teamed up with World Medical Relief to develop a program called "My Heart, Your Heart."

"We believe there are as many as a million people in the world each year who die for lack of a pacemaker. Project My Heart, Your Heart is a bridge from your heart to his or her heart," Dr. Kim Eagle, a cardiologist, said.

The highly regulated and organized effort removes and reprocesses pacemakers for diseased patients who died, to be reused in areas around the globe where medical devices are scarce and donating is simple.

"We've worked with funeral homes all over the country. If they send us an email or reach out to us on our website, we actually send them a prepacked envelope," Eagle said.

So far the program has collected over 25,000 pacemakers from all over the country, including right here in South Florida.

"A lot of people think of this as just medical waste or something you throw in a drawer. It's hard to believe this is something that can actually save someone's life or give them a new lease on life," Kimberly Stein said.

The Davie resident stumbled across the My Heart, Your Heart program after her father's death in 2017.

"It eases my mind knowing out of a bad situation he was able to make something good," she said.

The pre-owned pacemakers are tested for function and remaining battery life. Those that have four years or more left are prime candidates for being used again.

Once sterilized and packaged, the devices are ready for export, putting an otherwise wasted resource to good use around the globe. 

"We're thinking big here -- think the whole world and a million lives," Eagle said.

Since its inception, the program has sent pacemakers to places like Ghana, Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Kenya and the Philippines.

Implanted patients are followed to verify the ongoing track record of the devices. 


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