Dual-chamber pacemaker restores quality of life

Helen Luth, 87, of Newman, Illinois, hadn’t been feeling quite herself. She was experiencing chest pain, lightheadedness, confusion and tiredness.

Years prior, Helen had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation – or irregular heartbeat. She underwent two ablation procedures – a procedure that destroys the heart tissue causing the irregular heartbeats – to correct the problem.

“My symptoms had all come back again,” Helen said. “I would sit down to watch TV and all of a sudden I would experience severe chest pain, and the pain would go up my neck. I didn’t have the energy to do anything.”

She was also having trouble with her memory.

“I would lose my train of thought in the middle of a sentence,” Helen said. “My son and granddaughter thought I might need memory care.”

Helen knew she needed to be checked by her cardiologist, Dr. Abraham Kocheril at OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute.

Finding a solution

When she explained her symptoms to Dr. Kocheril, he thought there was a strong probability it was due to an irregular heartbeat.

To correlate her symptoms with what he thought was atrial fibrillation, a heart loop recorder was implanted in Helen’s chest – a small device to record the heart’s electrical activity. The results weren’t good.

“Helen’s heart rate was dipping to 30 beats per minute at times, which is very low,” Dr. Kocheril said. “A healthy heart beats between 60 and 100 times per minute. The symptoms she was experiencing were caused by her low heart rate.”

Based on the loop recorder findings, Dr. Kocheril believed Helen would be an excellent candidate for a dual-chamber heart pacemaker.

A dual-chamber heart pacemaker doesn’t allow the heart to dip below a programmed heart rate. It also ensures that the atrium – the top chamber of the heart – and the ventricle – the lower chamber of the heart – beat in sync with one another.

‘The old Helen is back’

On February 5, 2018, Helen underwent the one-hour procedure performed by Dr. Kocheril at OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana.

Helen spent one night in recovery and was back home the next day.

“The exciting new feature pacemakers have today is that a patient can have an MRI done without needing a professional to manually switch the pacemaker to a safe mode prior to the MRI and then reprogram the pacemaker after the MRI is complete,” Dr. Kocheril said. “Now, the newest pacemakers can detect magnetic fields from MRIs automatically. That’s important because people with heart conditions often need MRIs, so it takes a step out of the process and makes it more convenient for the patient.”

Today, Helen has regained her quality of life back. She is more active and her memory has improved.

“I have felt much better since my surgery,” Helen said. “My son and granddaughter even commented that my memory and thought process is much better, and they have their mom and grandma back.”

After her surgery, Helen went to see a neurologist to rule out Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease due to her memory loss symptoms prior to her pacemaker implant.

“The neurologist said I didn’t have either one of the conditions,” Helen said. “So I have to believe it was from my heart not pumping blood to my brain quick enough before I got the pacemaker. I feel so much stronger and thankful to Dr. Kocheril for what he’s done to my life.”