ASHTABULA — A new pacemaker the size of a vitamin capsule is restoring quality of life for patients suffering from chronic heart problems at Ashtabula County Medical Center. 

Dr. Perry Fleisher, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist who sees patients full-time at ACMC, said it’s a game-changer.

“We are among the first hospitals our size in Ohio to offer this technology,” he said. “It was previously only available at large academic medical centers. I am excited to bring this to Ashtabula County and ACMC’s patients.”

For nearly 65 years, pacemakers have kept hearts beating by sending a pulse that maintains a natural heart rhythm. A healthy heart beats 60 to 100 times a minute. A slow heart rate is known as bradycardia. It may not be noticeable immediately, but if the slow heart rate persists, it may interfere with a person’s ability to maintain exercise or engage in other activities for as long as they once could. They may also feel dizzy or tired, have shortness of breath, or may faint.

A cardiologist can diagnose the cause of bradycardia and recommend treatment options, such as a pacemaker. Traditionally, a pacemaker, about the size of a teabag, is placed under the skin with electrode leads running to the heart. The new MicraTM pacemaker now available at ACMC is much smaller — the size of a vitamin capsule.

There are many benefits to the MicraTM, according to ACMC physicians.

It attaches directly inside the heart rather than being placed under the skin with wires leading to the heart. It is inserted through the femoral vein in the groin during a minimally invasive procedure. The MicraTM automatically adjusts to increased physical activity and will adjust the heart rate appropriate to that activity. The device will continue to operate for up to 13 years and can be replaced. The MicraTM is also programmed by the cardiologist to meet the patient’s individual needs and that programming can be adjusted without the need for further surgery.

Arthur James Nordquest, of Ashtabula, was one of the first patients to receive the MicraTM. A Harbor High School graduate and U.S. Army veteran assigned to Naval duty, Nordquest said he had difficulty breathing, was tired all the time, and had trouble walking. He felt better after Fleisher implanted the MicraTM in mid-November.

“They put a heart monitor on me and my heart rate was up and down and all over the place,” Nordquest said. “My heart would beat fast and then slow down. Dr. Fleisher saw that and he said I needed this new pacemaker to fix it.”

Nordquest was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and a Watchman Device was inserted in 2015 to lower the risk of stroke.

“Mr. Nordquest and I have had a long patient-physician relationship,” Fleisher said. “When I saw the recent results from the heart monitor, I knew he was a perfect candidate for this technology. He was in the hospital overnight and then back home.”

Nordquest was surprised at the ease of the surgery.

“I didn’t even know they had started the surgery. They numbed the area they were working on around 7 a.m. and I kept wondering when they were going to start,” he said. “I thought they would give me anesthesia, but about 9 a.m., they said they were finished. I feel like I could walk 12 miles. I can breathe again, I’m not tired and I’m alive.”

Fleisher said the device significantly lowers the risk of infection and other complications because there is no chest incision.

Nordquest confirmed a speedy recovery.

This new, leadless pacemaker may not be suitable for all patients, Fleisher said. It is designed to overcome specific heart rhythm problems, stemming from a single chamber that becomes damaged. When other heart rhythm problems are diagnosed, a traditional pacemaker may still be the standard treatment option.

ACMC Healthcare System President and CEO Michael Habowski said he loves hearing patient’s stories like Nordquest’s experience at ACMC.

“It is encouraging to hear that one piece of technology can give patients a dramatic turnaround in health so quickly,” he said. “ACMC is committed to bringing proven technology to Ashtabula County, and thanks to Dr. Fleisher, this is another tool we can use to fight heart disease locally.”

For more information about ACMC’s Center for Heart Care, visit www.acmchealth.org. To schedule a cardiology appointment or diagnostic exam, call 440-997-6590.

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