They can cost up to $50,000, but embedded heart defibrillators are seeing growing interest among surgeons and patients around the country.
One of 2,500 patients nationwide who participated in a medical trial involving the devices, Diana Porter of Southfield, Mich., said she was talking on the telephone when she felt like someone kicked her in the head. Rising from the floor seconds later, she reassured the frightened friend on the phone that she was all right.
Since it was surgically implanted in front of her left shoulder in 2000, Porter's internal cardiac defibrillator has twice saved the 37-year-old mother of three.
The trial's dramatic results helped persuade Medicare and some private health insurance companies to start paying for the expensive, high-tech devices, the Detroit News reported.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, most of the 460,000 annual heart-attack deaths in the U.S. are caused by irregular heart rhythms. The battery-powered improvement on a pacemaker can speed and slow heart rates, correct a fluttering heartbeat and send a shock to restart a heart that has stopped.
In an outpatient procedure, wires from the pager-size computer are inserted through blood vessels from the shoulder to the heart, eliminating need for open-heart surgery.
Many of the estimated 5 million Americans with congestive heart failure had been unable to afford the devices before Medicare approval of the technology in January.