It started with a simple patient question asked years ago: “Could someone use my pacemaker after I die?” The question was met with exploration and now a mission to provide recycled pacemakers to patients across the globe.
Previous research, published by U-M cardiologists and others, shows recycled pacemakers are no more risky in terms of infections, and an ethically sound way of providing health care where finances limit access to the devices costing $4,000 to $10,000 each.
In the past five years, the U-M has collected thousands of used pacemakers. Funeral home and individuals have donated the devices, retrieved before cremation and burial, to be sterilized and battery life tested for potential reuse abroad.
Partnerships are starting to thrive, as U-M physicians travel the globe to train and assess cardiovascular programs that would receive the devices. A U-M team, led by Dr. Tom Carrigan and Kevin Weatherwax, joined Pace4Life, a British charity inspired by Project My Heart Your Heart, on a recent medical mission to Ghana.
“What I like about pacemaker implantation is it gives an instant therapy,” says Dr. Isaac Kofi Owusu, cardiologist at Komfo Anoyke teaching hospital in Kumasi, Ghana. “We are working in a resource poor country and these patients cannot afford these therapies. Five patients with slow heartbeats have received pacemaker implantation. They are stable and very happy.”
Biotronik, Inc. graciously donated new pacemakers for the Ghana mission. The technology is relatively simple: the battery-operated devices are implanted in the chest to help the heart keep a steady beat, and partnering countries are anxious for access to the life-saving devices.
“The medical mission to Ghana really amplified the need for pacemaker therapy in developing countries for those who cannot afford this life-saving technology,” says Weatherwax, of the Michigan Institute for Clincal and Health Research. “Our international colleagues recognize the extraordinary promise they hold for patients who need them.”
Take the next step:
- Find out how to send devices for free to Project My Heart Your Heart.
- See the difference made in the life of a patient in a BBC World News story.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.