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In a move that is certain to invite debate (as well as controversy) physicians moved forward with plans to begin implanting recycled pacemakers in low-income cardiac patients. For a person with an irregular heartbeat, a pacemaker may be a life-saver….literally. Designed to regulate irregular heart beats, pacemakers are battery operated devices which are implanted into the chests of cardiac patients. Pacemaker implantation can be extremely expensive, ranging from $8,000 - 10,000 for outpatient implantation to upwards of $40,000 - 60,000 for an inpatient procedure. The high cost of the procedures leaves many uninsured and lower-economic cardiac patients unable to cover the cost of the procedure.
Because of the high cost, physicians at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center proposed a controversial solution - removing such devices upon the death of the current cardiac patient, cleaning them up, and then implanting the used devices into low-income patients (removal could also be triggered by infections or the patient upgrading to a different or newer device). According to researchers from Thomas Jefferson University, the proposal has become a reality for 30 cardiac patients in India.
Thirty defibrillators (21 cardioverter defibrillators or ICDs and 19 cardiac resynchronization therapy defibrillators or CRT-Ds) were removed from American patients and then sent to India where they were re-implanted into low-income Indian cardiac patients. All recycled devices were required to have a least a three volt charge remaining and not be subject to a current recall notice. Since the devices recycled in this instance were harvested from live patients, permission of the current device holder was requested before they were reused and re-implanted.
Researchers reported that there were no infections reported as a result of the re-implantation and that the recycled devices appeared to work as designed. The India patients also had a 35 percent successful shock rate.