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Healthwatch 16: A New Way to Place Pacemakers

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PLAINS TWP -- A pacemaker is a small device placed in the chest to help the heart pump the right way.

While they're not uncommon, one doctor at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre says he is perfecting a better way to implant them.

"We live in a split level home. I was up and down the steps all the time. It killed me," said 71-year-old Barbara Chamberlain of Mountain Top, talking about the times her heart rate would just start zooming.

She says she developed heart problems as a result of radiation treatment she had some 40 years ago for lymphoma.

"It was getting pretty bad. I had reached a point where I'd get an attack, it would wake me in the night, seven, eight hours long."

Barbara needed a pacemaker, which is one of Dr. Pugazhendhi Vijayaraman's specialties.

He's an electrophysiologist at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre. He tells us in most patients with an irregular heartbeat, a pacemaker works pretty well.

"But in a percentage of patients, that electrical dis-synchronicity causes problems and causes heart failure," said Dr. Vijayaraman.

He explains in a normal pacemaker procedure, he'd insert the device through a vein in the shoulder region. The wire goes anywhere in the chamber to stimulate the heart, but Dr. Vijay says the pulses would then conduct slowly through what he calls the "highway" of the heart's electrical system.

In the last few years, though, Dr. Vijay says he uses something called "His Bundle Pacing," a technique that gets to the exact spot where the electrical system is, bypassing the diseased regions altogether. That, he says, reactivates the heart's natural rhythm, which reduces the rate of heart failure.

"Because we've been doing this for a lot of patients here and the technique is shown to work well, other centers, other physicians come from across the country to watch us do it and to learn from us."

"His Bundle Pacing" is now standard at Geisinger Wyoming Valley. He estimates they've used it on more than 500 patients.

Barbara was one of them. She tells us since the procedure in November, she's had only one attack and it lasted just 10 minutes.

"Oh, it has changed my life. I mean, I'm actually able to do things again," she said.

Dr. Vijay says the concept of "His Bundle Pacing" isn't new, but it's something he is trying to perfect. He does have plans to present more on it at medical conferences down the road.