Here’s the scenario: you are told you have a severe heart rhythm problem. One where your heart could either stop or go into such uncoordinated contractions that you will die--unless a high tech device, a defibrillator, is implanted to instantaneously jolt your heart back into healthy pumping. You are grateful you live in a time when there is a high-tech solution. If you also have a heart that may at times also beat too slow or skip a beat you learn there’s even a combination device, a pacemaker-defibrillator. That even better news for you. You get a “two in one” solution. My, my, the marvels of modern medicine!
But now we are learning there’s another shoe that could drop. While those implanted electrical devices are usually lifesaving, there have been at least five cases when malfunctions with the electrical cabling around the heart has been life-ending. Not surprisingly the manufacturer, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration watching, has been moving to correct the problem. But when correcting the problem means extracting the cabling during a second heart surgery, that has led to more risk. And at least four patients have died during the procedure.
In reading about all this two things come to mind: 1) Medical technology doesn’t always work when it rolls out to more than a quarter million people – as this device did over three years. 2) It takes a special skill set above and beyond even the most confident heart surgeon to safely fix the problem without killing you in the process. Chalk another one up for the importance of only seeing the most experienced doctor in exactly what you need before you go under the knife or have any treatment where your life, or quality of life, is on the line.
Patients often feel the latest technology not only offers the most elegant treatment choice but also the most reliable. Not true, as we are seeing with the recall of these high tech devices and other straight pacemakers a couple of years ago. So a word of caution, just because something is new it doesn’t mean it’s better.