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Vickroy: Tiny monitor may shed light on heart maladies

DebrDuffy displays portable device thshe can hold over an implanted heart monitor event an emergency. Duffy recently had newly approved

Debra Duffy displays a portable device that she can hold over an implanted heart monitor in the event of an emergency. Duffy recently had a newly approved monitor implanted at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 2, 2014 1:04PM



Debra Duffy was just two minutes from her Orland Park home when she suddenly fainted behind the wheel of her car.

The cause of the recent incident, the second time that Duffy passed out for no apparent reason while driving, remains a mystery. Luckily, this time she only hit a parked car.

“I was really mad. I couldn’t believe it happened again,” said Duffy, who works as a teacher’s aide in District 135.

Eight years ago, it resulted in a serious accident. She went through a huge battery of tests afterward, but they revealed nothing, she said. After a three-month hiatus, she was allowed to drive again.

In December, after being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, she underwent an ablation to correct the problem. She thought that was the end of her troubles.

But when she fainted again a few weeks ago, Duffy was determined to do something about it. Her doctor recommend a newly approved procedure.

Last week, the mother of two became one of just a few people in Illinois to receive an “implantable loop recorder” heart monitor that may help doctors shed light on syncope (fainting spells) as well as cryptogenic stroke, which has no identifiable cause — maladies that affect millions of people.

Recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the new monitor is smaller than a triple-A battery. It was implanted in Duffy by Jeffrey Neiger, a cardiologist who specializes in electrophysiology at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, only the second hospital in Illinois to offer the device.

In addition to being smaller and less invasive than older, implantable models and external devices, the new monitor works continuously for up to three years — wirelessly signaling a small unit, about the size of a land-line phone handset, that’s plugged into an outlet in the patient’s home.

Older monitors record information, but the patient has to come into a hospital or doctor’s office to have that data downloaded.

The new system uses the phone network to send the patient’s heart rhythm information to a computer server for later downloading and review by the patient’s physician, Neiger said. The unit can also be programmed to send an alarm when a suspicious heart rhythm is detected.

Because it uses wireless cellular networks, Neiger said, it ensures that the heart-monitoring data is of higher quality than what the older monitors can provide.

Duffy also was given a small, cellphone-size unit that she can hold over the spot where the device is installed during an emergency. The monitor will immediately record data for 10 minutes prior to an incident and 10 minutes after.

“If I never have an episode, I don’t have to use that phone-like device, I just rely on the plug-in transmitter to send the information,” she said. “This is nice because I can just go on my merry way and live my life.”

She can even travel with the device, although she cannot pass through airport metal detectors.

The device, which Duffy described as being the size of a piece of Trident gum, is pushed through a small punctured hole in the skin and positioned at a 45-degree angle on the rib cage over the heart.

The surgical procedure takes less than 10 minutes and requires little or no sedation other than a local anesthetic at the site of the puncture, Neiger said.

Duffy said her device was implanted with only valium sedation.

“The procedure was really fast,” she said. “I was even able to wear my glasses during it.”

Though the monitor cannot prevent her from fainting and she now refrains from driving, it may help doctors find the cause for such episodes, thus leading to treatment.

Neiger said in 20 to 30 percent of stroke cases, doctors cannot determine a cause. Similarly, there is no known cause in many cases for recurring fainting spells.

“We’re talking about millions of people,” he said. “With this monitor, we may be able to identify abnormal rhythms and provide treatment.”

A heart-rhythm abnormality that could be causing these problems might only be detectable during an extended monitoring period, he said.

“Until now, monitors were limited. The external holster monitor, which has to be worn and records heart rhythm through electrodes placed on the skin, is bulky, sometimes irritating to the skin and provides data for only 24 to, perhaps, 72 hours at best,” Neiger said. “And the older, implantable monitor is about as large as a pack of gum, heavier than the newer model, and requires a lengthier procedure to implant.”

Because of the ease in implanting the new device, its convenience to patients and its ability to collect heart data over three years, Neiger said one day ER doctors may be able to implant them when a patient arrives for emergency treatment following a syncope episode.

Update: Boys get their bikes

A few weeks ago, I told you about two local teenage boys — longtime friends, both with special needs — who wanted adaptive bicycles that their families could not afford to buy.

Thanks to generous readers, Scotty Curtiss, who has autism, and Anthony Tabascio — who has cerebral hypoplasia, seizure disorder and hypotonia — received custom-built bikes from Project Mobility: Cycles for Life, a St. Charles-based nonprofit group that offers therapeutic and recreational opportunities for disabled children and adults.

What’s more, enough money was raised to also get an adaptive bicycle for Joshua Carroll, a Reavis High School teen who has cerebral palsy.

The fundraising campaign is ongoing. The next area resident on the list is Alberto Soto, a 16-year-old Eisenhower High School student who has Down syndrome.

To learn more about Project Mobility, visit www.projectmobility.org. To donate to the campaign to get Alberto Soto a bike, click on the link “Help teens with disabilities get a ride” and be sure to specify that the donation is for Alberto.

The public also can donate to this campaign by sending a check to Project Mobility, 2930 Campton Hills Drive, St. Charles, IL 60175. For more information, call
(630) 762-9807.



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