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"Wireless" pacemaker brings new hope for heart failure patients

Pacemaker patients

LONDON -- Frances Rodgers used to get winded just walking up a short flight of stairs.

“I’d stop, take a few breaths and then I was all right to go on a bit,” she said.

The 70-year-old, who suffered heart failure, said her pacemaker was part of the problem. She had three surgeries to replace the leads, or wires, attached to her 16-year-old device, but her body kept rejecting them.

About 30 percent of people with pacemakers have trouble with their devices, which experts say is often due to these wires.

Standard pacemakers use three leads to send electrical impulses to pace the heart, but for many patients, they can break, decay or cause infection.

Doctors at London’s St. Thomas Hospital told Rodgers of a new “wireless” technology called WiSE. Instead of leads, the system uses a tiny electrode placed directly inside the heart’s left ventricle. A battery and transmitter are also implanted in the chest wall. All the components work together with a patient’s pacemaker to regulate the heart.

“You’re activating the heart in a more normal fashion,” cardiologist Dr. Aldo Rinaldi told CBS News. “Usually, the heart is activated electrically from the inside to the outside.”

The electrode is only 9 millimeters -- about the size of the tip of a pen. Surgeons use a catheter to insert the electrode into the heart and the procedure takes about an hour.

It’s been almost six months since Rodgers had her wireless pacemaker implanted.

“I feel so much better,” she said. “I got my life back.”

Currently, the wireless technology is only available in Europe. Testing in the U.S. is expected later this year.

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