On December 6, 2019, Southeast Georgia Health System became the only hospital between Savannah and Jacksonville to offer heart patients the world’s smallest pacemaker. Assisted by the Health System’s Heart Catheter team, cardiologist Mark T. Watkins, M.D., FACC, successfully implanted the new device in two patients. The minimally invasive procedures each took less than 20 minutes.
Both patients suffer from bradycardia, a condition causing low or irregular heart rhythms. Bradycardia can create dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath or fainting spells, especially during physical activity. The pacemaker’s electrical impulses or “pacing therapy” relieves these symptoms by restoring the heart’s normal rhythm.
The new pacemaker, known as the Micra® Transcatheter Pacing System (PTS) is unique for several reasons. About the size of a large vitamin, it is one-tenth the size of a traditional pacemaker. Weighing little more than a penny, the Micra does not require cardiac wires (leads) or a surgical “pocket” under the skin to deliver electrical impulses. The device automatically adjusts pacing therapy based on each patient’s activity levels.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Micra pacemaker in 2016. It is also approved for Medicare reimbursement.
Watkins and cardiologist Mitchell T. Jones, M.D., Southeast Georgia Health System Brunswick Campus medical staff members, received specialized training in device implantation and use.
“The Micra pacemaker is a milestone for our heart patients who now have access to this technology close to home. I’m pleased that we can improve heart function and quality of life for bradycardia patients in a way that’s unobtrusive and offers lower risk than what was available with a traditional pacemaker,” says Watkins.
According to Lance Simpson, a senior clinical specialist with Medtronic, Micra’s manufacturer, this is currently the only leadless pacemaker available. Simpson feels the technology offers important advantages over regular pacemakers. “First, the patients have no visible or physical reminders of the pacemaker. More importantly, the implant success rate with Micra is nearly 100 percent. And patients implanted with this device experience 63 percent fewer complications than they would with a traditional pacemaker.”
The tiny device is implanted into the patient’s heart through a catheter inserted into the femoral vein. “There are fewer potential complications with this device because it does not use lead wires,” Watkins says, adding, “It is a permanent pacemaker, but should it need removal or replacement, it can be permanently shut down and a new device implanted without any risk of electrical interference.”
Patients implanted with the Micra may safely undergo full-body magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and TSA airport screenings.
From his perspective as a cardiologist, Watkins is especially enthusiastic about the device’s ability to track heart health. “The device sends data to the Medtronic CareLink Network, which allows me to follow the patient’s condition via remote monitoring. Patients only need a ‘device check’ once a year in my office.”
To schedule a consultation with Watkins, call 912-264-0760. To schedule a consultation with Jones, call 912-264-1520.