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St. Vincent Heartbeat: New Device Aims to Repair Damaged Hearts

Doctors are testing a new device that may help repair damaged hearts by stimulating the vagus nerve.
Doctors are testing a new device that may help repair damaged hearts by stimulating the vagus nerve.

When Mike Herasimuk had a massive heart attack two years ago, life as he knew it was over. He couldn't work, and could barely get around. He has heart failure.

"My heart's in really bad shape, that's why they were thinking of doing a heart transplant also, but I'm not quite bad enough," he says.

He has a pacemaker defibrillator to keep his heart beating.

Last month, Metrohealth doctors implanted an experimental device into his chest that may not only keep his heart beating, but may also improve it.

"It prevents the further decomposition of the heart and actually has been shown to reverse some of the heart failure damage," says Paul Budny, from Biocontrol Medical.

When the device is turned on, an electrode connects the vagus nerve in his neck to his heart.
 
"It will sense when the heartbeat is and deliver the stimulus at the appropriate time during the cardiac cycle for a certain amount of time, and then we let the heart rest," says cardiologist Dr. Mark Dunlap.

The vagus nerve goes throughout the body but in the heart it regulates rhythm and pumping. Every 20 seconds the stimulator tickles the nerve.

It's not an immediate fix, but doctors hope over time, Mike's heart health will improve.

"Hopefully it will make a big difference," he says.
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