By Janice Neumann, Special to the Tribune
May 11, 2011
The low heart rate, water retention and fatigue have all but disappeared for Bob Fouts since doctors implanted a pacemaker in the 79-year-old Korean War veteran.
To top it off, Fouts will still be able to undergo an MRI for his unrelated back ailment and leg pain because he has a new type of pacemaker that can withstand the test's powerful magnetic field. The retired security guard was the first patient to have the device implanted in a south suburban hospital — at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island earlier this year.
Until the new MRI-compatible pacemaker was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February, patients often had to settle for alternative, more invasive tests that don't pinpoint medical problems as well.
MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed images of the organs, tissues and skeletal system. Patients lie inside a large, tube-shaped machine to have the test done. But the magnetic field can heat up a regular pacemaker's wires, causing the device to malfunction or create an irregular heartbeat in the patient.
The new devices are constructed of nonmetallic material and wires with extra insulation. Medtronic, a large Minnesota-based medical technology company, developed the new Revo MRI SureScan pacemaker.
But a major drawback of the new technology is that Medicare won't pay for an MRI in individuals who have any type of pacemaker, unless the patients are in certain clinical trials. Some private insurers will cover the cost. MRIs typically cost up to several thousand dollars.
Dr. Sean Tierney, a cardiologist and electrophysiologist at MetroSouth, who implanted Fouts' device, said he thinks Medicare will fund MRIs for patients with the new pacemakers once the insurer reviews the data showing the device is safe.
"We have to wait for the payment questions to meet the technology," said Tierney.
Fouts, of Blue Island, had MRIs in the past for various medical problems and anticipates needing the test in the future. He also has congestive heart failure, a low heart rate and diverticulitis.
"His heart rate was very slow and causing him to fill up with water, and he has a history of severe back pain and neuropathy (nerve damage) in his legs, which put him at high risk for needing an MRI in the future," said Tierney.
Tierney pointed out that patients are more likely to need an MRI after age 65.
Fouts said he was initially a bit skeptical about having a pacemaker implanted in his body, but said the procedure improved his health and stamina. He also doesn't have to worry about having an MRI.
"My legs are warm at night, they're not cold, and I can sleep at night," said Fouts. "It improved my health enormously."
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