William Osler Health Centre’s pacemaker program keeps patients in perfect rhythm

John Johnson made a promise to himself that he would retire at age 60. At 68, the former machine operator has kept that promise and was looking forward to a long life of travel and spending time with his grandchildren. But something happened that almost cost him his life.

“I had been to see my doctor for a routine check up in December of 2003 and it was discovered that my heart rate was only 37 beats per minute, Johnson recalls. “I knew it should be about 72 beats per minute.”

“As I was on the treadmill beginning to walk, the doctor stopped the test saying that my heart could stop at anytime. He told me that he couldn’t let me go home, that I had to go to the emergency right away. I remember thinking that I had told my wife that I would be back home in a couple of hours never thinking that it would be several days.”

With a third degree heart block and the four chambers of his heart opening and closing randomly, Johnson was admitted January 2, 2004, to the Emergency Department at William Osler Health Centre’s Etobicoke campus and from there to the Critical Care Unit to await pacemaker implantation surgery. Ironically enough, notes Johnson, it was January 6, the day of Epiphany, that he had his implantation surgery at the Brampton campus. It has become a date he will always remember as his second chance for life.

Johnson is one of 174 success stories since William Osler Health Centre was approved by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to implant 150 pacemakers per year. A pacemaker is a battery-operated electrical generator that can sense a person’s heart rate and stimulate an electrical impulse if needed to create a heart muscle contraction.

“By offering this new service at our hospital, patients needing a pacemaker implanted are able to receive their care closer to home,” says Sue Petrevan, Patient Care Manager, Cardiology, Respirology and Neurophysiology. “Our ability to implant permanent pacemakers and replace old pacemakers also means that our patients no longer have to wait five to ten days with temporary pacemakers.”

Patients like Johnson receive education about the procedure and living with a pacemaker through the Arrhythmia Program held at the hospital. Corry Bachmeier is the Program Coordinator.

“The Arrhythmia Program consists of two programs: The Pacemaker Follow-up program, (which is in its 11th year at the Brampton campus, and its first year at the Etobicoke campus) and the Pacemaker Implant Program. The follow-up program includes assessment of pacemaker function, re-programming of the device to improve functioning and ongoing education for the patient. Approximately 600 patients are followed between the Brampton and Etobicoke follow up clinics. Cardiologists are involved in the follow-up clinics. Patients are referred to the program by specialists including cardiologists and internists.

Once an outpatient is referred to William Osler Health Centre’s program by a cardiologist, they have a pre-operative assessment at the hospital. During this assessment the nurse collects information about the patient’s past and current medical history. A cardiologist is consulted to determine which pacemaker would be best suited for the patient i.e. single chamber or dual chamber.

“We perform the implants on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Patients admitted for the purpose of a pacemaker implant stay overnight and are discharged the next morning. Their length of stay is less than 24 hours,” says Petrevan.

The Arrhythmia Program is backed by very experienced healthcare professionals including three implanting physicians and dedicated staff members at both campuses who look after everything from surgery bookings, and patient education to testing, implant and follow-up.

With a new hospital on the horizon the future of the program is very bright. Cardiology is one of the key services to be expanded and the Arrhythmia Program will move to the new hospital.

“Technology is changing rapidly, says Bachmeier. “Devices are becoming more and more sophisticated, performing multiple functions. Being in a new state-of-the-art facility will only enhance the services we are providing today.”

That is good news for patients like Johnson who, thanks to the “miracle of science”, has a new lease on life. “This really is a wonder of science, this little computer that controls my heart rate. I feel better, look better and I love to travel so I’m planning a trip to England this year.” It’s another promise he intends to keep.

Stuart Oakley is media manager at William Osler Health Centre

For more information on the Arrhythmia Program at William Osler Health Centre contact Program Coordinator Corry Bachmeier at (905) 494-2120 ext 25840.