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YOUR HEALTH: A safer diagnosis for those who have pacemakers

DALLAS, Texas – For years, older model, so-called "legacy pacemakers", were not compatible with MRIs because the metal in the pacemakers caused the magnetic resonance imaging devices to fail, lead tips could overheat, and patients would report pain.

Now, imaging experts have made adjustments so MRIs can be safe for more patients.

Twelve years ago, life-long runner Mike Unclebach was diagnosed with a heart blockage and got a Pacemaker.

Ten years later, his electrocardiologist told him the pacemaker indicated a problem but Mike was one of those patients told to avoid MRIs.

But he became a brave man.

"Somebody's gotta be first."

Mike agreed to an MRI after new studies showed how the testing could be done safely by limiting the magnet strength, the MRI energy applied, and the duration of exposure.

Turns out, Mike's MRI showed an even more serious problem: a thickening of the muscle wall of the left ventricle, a condition called atypical hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

"We can see it's severely thickened," explained cardiologist Dr. Haojie Wang.

"It's about close to three centimeters or 30 millimeters in thickness. So this is abnormal."

The Pacemaker was removed and replaced with an implantable defibrillator that will shock Mike's heart back to life if it suddenly stops.

All made possible because of a safe MRI.

"We can see more we couldn't see before with much higher resolution," said Dr. Wang.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:   There is a new pacemaker system on the market that may completely change the traditional relationship between these devices and MRIs; in fact, the challenge of finding alternate diagnostic methods and the risk of conducting the MRI may be obsolete in a few years.   This new device, approved by the FDA, is the Revo MRI SureScan Pacing System.   It was specifically engineered by the device maker for MRI safety and consists of the Medtronic Revo MRI SureScan pulse generator implanted with two CapSureFix MRI SureScan leads.

Just two weeks out of surgery, Mike is working out again and plans to climb a mountain.

"I'm going to get to go be me."

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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