The heart patient whose life could be saved by a gadget linked to a satellite... via Germany


Last updated at 21:20 06 March 2008

Lifeline: Ross Cowie and his transmitter which is tracked by the satellite

Lifeline: Ross Cowie and his transmitter which is tracked by the satellite

Every beat of Ross Cowie's heart is being monitored from space.

Should it falter, a signal will be transmitted hundreds of miles to a satellite and then on to Germany.

In an instant, experts there will be able to alert paramedics near Mr Cowie's home on the Isle of Skye.

The link, and the time it saves, could mean the difference between life and death for Mr Cowie, who suffers from a rare genetic condition.

His heart beat is recorded by a matchbox-sized defibrillator embedded in his chest.

This is linked to a transmitter which is tracked by the satellite.

The defibrillator can also shoot 800 volts of electricity into his body to shock his heart back into a regular rhythm, giving paramedics more time to get to his side.

Mr Cowie suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy, an incurable heart problem which affects one in 2,500 Britons.

The chambers of the heart become enlarged so blood cannot be pumped efficiently around the body.

He is one of only about 100 Britons to be linked up to such a satellite scheme.

A regular player of shinty - a Scottish game similar to hockey - and football, Mr Cowie had been healthy throughout his 20s, but at the age of 36, the heart problems began.

After his sixth heart attack in 2006, he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition that also claimed his father and uncle.

In December 2006, he was fitted with the pioneering device, manufactured by Berlin-based company Biotronik.

He wears a cardio messenger round his waist at all times which transmits the information from the defribrillator inside his chest to Berlin via the satellite.

If the defribrillator detects an irregular heart beat, the company informs the nearest hospital - usually Aberdeen Royal Infirmary - which in turn contacts Mr Cowie or sends paramedics to his side.

If the defribrillator detects his heart beating irregularly to the point where it believes it will go into arrest, it will try to shock it back to normal.

The potentially life-saving technology has forced Mr Cowie to make great changes in his life.

He cannot drive a car and has to stay away from electrical equipment in case it interferes with the defibrillator and the signal it sends.

Mr Cowie, who is president of his local shinty club, also cannot risk getting excited about his team's fortunes in case the defibrillator starts sending the huge electric current around his body.

In fact, the divorcee must avoid any kind of excitement, which has rather dampened his hopes of finding romance.

Mr Cowie has already been given a warning about remaining calm after a game of golf resulted in the device detecting an increased heart rate and sending 800-volt shocks through his body.

He said: "It feels like your chest is blowing up. I thought that either my heart had packed in and I was about to die, or that the machine had gone haywire.

"On a golf course in Skye, two hours from a hospital, it was scary."

The former commercial director said he is trying to fight his way back to living as normal a life as possible, but adds: "I can't commit long term to anything. I'm lucky to be here and my main focus is to look after my condition."

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