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Flying with an ICD: What you should know

plane-icdWriter and mom Lisa Mulcrone, 47, had the opportunity to take an eight-week trip around the world to places most people rarely get to see – from the mountains of China and neighborhoods in India, to the African countryside and forests of Costa Rica and Brazil.

But to get there how would she navigate through foreign airport security scanners that could damage her implantable cardiac defibrillator? A compassionate boss at Michigan State University wondered whether Lisa, who lived with the high-tech device needed to keep her heart in rhythm, was physically up for the journey. Honestly she had her doubts too.

“I talked to my doctor, Dr. (Eric) Good, (a cardiologist at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center) and he said to go for it,” says Mulcrone who made the extraordinary trek in January and February 2013. “He said the device was there to help me live my life and I should go live it.”

It is not unusual for implanted device patients to fly to their vacation or business destinations. However, going through airport security at different airports can be confusing.

Some tips for helping you travel with less worry:

1. Present your Medical Device ID card at the first security station. This card identifies you as a pacemaker or defibrillator patient.

2. After showing your card, follow the security staff’s directions. Depending on the airport, the staff may do one of the following:

  • Tell you to continue through the security archway/scanner. The security arch will not harm your device or change the programmed settings. However, your device may set off an alarm. Note: the new full body scanners will show your device on their image, but the scanners will not sound an alarm while you are inside. You may be asked to show your ID, or they may ask you to stand aside for a hand-pat search
  • Use a hand-held security wand. If a wand must be used, inform the Security Officer that you have an implanted device. Tell the Security Officer that the search must be done quickly and to not hold the wand over your device.
  • Do a hand-pat search. If you request a hand-pat search, you can request a private area, out of view of the general public.

Device manufacturers, such as Boston Scientific, can provide an airport security card for you to carry with you when traveling internationally.

The Medical Device Security Card explains, in 13 languages, that the device can trigger alarms at airport security checkpoints, and that strong magnets can affect the function of the device.

Lisa made the journey without incident, getting a knowing response from airport workers when she said she had a heart device and requested a pat-down search in lieu of the scanners.

A run-down of her stops: China, Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Bangladesh and India—with additional airport transfers through South Africa, Kenya and Qatar. And she did it all without checking a bag. See Lisa and the MSU film crew on their Spartans Will.360 tour.