AUGUSTA, Ga. – The little machine about the size of a sticky note pad that sits just beneath the surface of Gary Couse’s underarm area and the thin wire connected to it could deliver the life-saving jolt he needs to keep his heart beating.
Georgia Regents Medical Center is first in the region and just the second hospital in Georgia to use the Boston Scientific S-ICD® System, a subcutaneous implantable defibrillator, for the treatment of sudden cardiac arrest.
“When the heart goes into a dangerous rhythm, the S-ICD System delivers a jolt similar to that of an external defibrillator,” said Dr. Robert Sorrentino, Director of the Georgia Regents Heart Rhythm Center. “This shocks the heart back into a normal rhythm, restoring proper blood flow to the brain, lungs and other organs, saving the patient’s life.”
A heart attack in November put Couse, of Swainsboro, at increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
“I had plans to hike the Appalachian Trail,” said the active 72-year-old who enjoys backpacking, biking, skiing and just about anything he can do outdoors. “I hiked the trail about 10 years ago in just under five months, and I was really looking forward to doing it again.”
But after speaking with his doctors, Couse began to realize that the exertion of the trail could spell disaster. His wife Marilyn and his daughter – a nurse – told him that he needed to forego the hike and take care of his heart. So instead of packing his gear for the trail, he packed his clothes for an overnight hospital stay to have an S-ICD System placed.
“What distinguishes the S-ICD from other implantable defibrillators is that it doesn’t touch the heart. So, it’s a less invasive device as far as the heart is concerned,” said Sorrentino. “The leads are often the weak link in defibrillator and pacemaker technology. They’ve been known to fracture, disconnect from the heart and develop other problems that can lead to loss of function or to unnecessary shocks. But this new device decreases those dangers for patients.”
In addition, the S-ICD System can be implanted using only anatomical landmarks, meaning X-ray positioning is not needed for this type of implant, thereby eliminating radiation exposure for both patients and physicians.
Nearly 400,000 people in the United States will develop sudden cardiac arrest each year, and without fast intervention, 9 out of 10 will die, according to Sorrentino, who has been recognized as one of America’s Top Doctors® in electrophysiology for more than a decade. As Creel Professor of Medicine and the Training Program Director of the Electrophysiology Fellowship Program at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University, he also teaches other physicians how to treat electrical dangers in the heart.
“I think the S-ICD will allow Mr. Couse the mobility and flexibility he needs,” Sorrentino said. “He exercises regularly and has a healthy diet, so he should be back to his regular routine in about two weeks.”
Getting a device that is compatible with his active lifestyle was welcome news for the retired manufacturing manager who plans to ride his bike a couple of hundred miles between events in Swainsboro and Savannah this year.
“It’s very high-tech,” said Couse. “The cardiology team here had my best interests at heart.”
The S-ICD System has been commercially available in Europe and New Zealand since 2009, and the device received FDA approval in the U.S. in late 2012. To date, just over 2,000 of these devices have been implanted in patients around the world.