Pacemaker Reuse Found Safe

Pacemakers from deceased Americans aid poor India arrhythmia patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Patients with severe heart arrhythmias are at risk of dying within months without the aid of a pacemaker. In India many heart patients are unable to afford the device. Reusing devices from deceased Americans has been found to be a safe and efficient option.

The devices are sterilized before they are implanted. Most Indians cannot afford to purchase a pacemaker that costs up to $6,600.

"Consider donating the medical devices of deceased loved ones."

Dr. Gaurav Kulkarni, a co-author from the Loyola University Medical Center, said that without pacemakers these Indian patients would be forced to remain on indefinite confined rest because of cardiac fatigue. He said the patients had experienced a dramatic change after receiving the pacemakers.

During the study 53 poor patients in Mumbai, India received pacemakers that had been donated by the families of deceased Americans between 2004 and 2010. The participants suffered from complete heart block and sick sinus syndrome, which leaves them exhausted and gasping for breath with only minimal physical exertion.

Researchers initially collected 121 pacemakers, and then narrowed those to 60 which had an expected battery life of more than three years.

Seven additional devices were discarded because of a decay in battery life, leaving 53, which were sterilized before being sent to Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai, which serves all patients, regardless of income.

Following the implantation, all of the patients were doing well after being followed for two years. All but two patients reported a significant improvement in symptoms. Four patients who were previously working a manual labor job were able to return to their positions without incident.

An additional 27 women said that their symptoms improved enough that they were able to resume household chores.

The study began as a charitable project, but doctors decided to make it a formal study to determine the safety and effectiveness of the donated devices. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not allow pacemakers to be reused in the United States.

Investigators concluded the project to implant donated pacemakers could save lives, while also improving the quality of life for poor patients.

The study was published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

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Review Date: 
December 9, 2011
Last Updated:
December 12, 2011