Tiny life-saving heart starter

by MARTYN HALLE, Daily Mail

Mark Wendruff believes he is alive today thanks to a tiny, revolutionary gadget the size of a matchbox, which is implanted in his chest.

Mark, a 52-year-old chauffeur from Stanmore, Middlesex, is among thousands of people who suffer from an abnormal heart beat, or arrhythmia, which can sometimes cause the heart to stop suddenly.

A few months after he collapsed, cardiologists at London's Bart's Hospital fitted Mark with a gadget which can detect an abnormal heart beat.

Mark says the device - known as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) - has saved his life on two occasions.

There are only 3,000 people in Britain who have been fitted with an ICD, which cost £30,000 each. However, heart doctors are convinced that if the government was to make a substantial investment in such technology, it could save on the rising cost of heart bypass surgery and care.

They believe that ICDs could save as many as 100,000 lives a year. Sudden death from cardiovascular disease in England and Wales is estimated at more than 800 per 100,000 of the male population, compared with approximately 300 per 100,000 of the female population.

Unfortunately, Britain is near the bottom of the European and world league in the use of ICDs. The ICD works in the same way as external defibrillators used in hospital casualty departments and now kept increasingly in public places.

The device can correct an abnormal heart beat, which can lead to a cardiac arrest, or it can intervene when the heart stops completely.

The ICD, which can reduce the risk of dying from heart problems by up to 30 per cent, is implanted in the lower chest muscle, with one or more leads passed into the heart.

Should the device detect an arrhythmia, it sends electrical impulses into the heart to correct and restore normal rhythm, and also intervenes during a cardiac arrest.

At present, the majority of heart patients with abnormal heart beats are treated with drugs. But these don't always work and they often have major side-effects. Cardiologists believe an increased use of technology to keep patients alive is the way forward.

Mark Wendruff agrees: 'We need funding to help those like me who simply would not survive on drug therapy alone.

'When you've been rescued from certain death, you appreciate every breath you take. I am still here enjoying life with my family because my ICD kicked in and saved my life.'

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