Organ donation 2.0: recycling pacemakers

Are you done with that artificial pacemaker? University of Michigan doctors hope to kickstart a hand-me-down program across the world for these costly lifesavers.

You can't take it with you. Well, you could, but someone somewhere needs that pacemaker that's been keeping rhythm in your chest.

Let the beat go on, say 84 percent of pacemaker patients at the University of Michigan, where doctors are exploring the idea of implanting used pacemakers into needy heart patients across the world.

And why not? For most folks, there's less sentimentality attached to an electric device than say, one's heart.

The World Health Organization lists coronary disease as the leading cause of death, affecting both rich and poor corners of the Earth. But artificial pacemakers are harder to come by in low and middle income countries, with 1 to 2 million people dying each year due to an ability to get a one, according the researchers.

University of Michigan Health System:

Some foreign manufacturers have reduced the cost of pacemakers to as little as $800, a price that still makes it out of reach in poor nations.

“Despite the substantial cost reduction, a new pacemaker is often more than the annual income of the average worker in underdeveloped nations,” says [Director] Kim A. Eagle.

The cardiologists' study, published in Circulation, addresses the legal and logistical issues of recycling pacemakers globally. Their project My Heart - Your Heart hopes to get FDA approval for clinical trials that will examine how to safely implant the hand-me-down heartpacers (with limited risk of infection). The devices will also need to work. The university will only accept pacemakers with a 70-percent battery life or higher.

After funeral homes mail the devices in, the researchers will sterilize them, as well as wipe clean any of their previous patients' information.

Image: Wikipedia Commons

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