Samuel J. Garnett Jr. can live with the device that was implanted in his abdomen three years ago.
The instrument, about the size of a deck of cards, is called the automatic implantable cardio verter defibrillator (AICD) and is wired to his heart to monitor its beats. It will deliver electric shocks to his heart if it detects life-threatening arrhythmias.
Garnett's defibrillator has not fired since the surgery to implant it. But he had a history of cardiac arrests before 1988 and feels secure knowing that the AICD could save his life.
"This is like a paramedic in your belly," said Garnett, 60, of northeast Baltimore, who joined 30 other heart patients with implanted defibrillators for a support group session Friday at Sinai Hospital.
Another 60-year-old man attending the support session said he felt a strange sensation when his device activated. It fired three times before he realized his heartbeat was being restored to its ++ normal pace.
The implanted defibrillator was invented at Sinai 10 years ago by the late Dr. Michel Mirowski with Dr. Morton Mower, who now works for an AICD manufacturer. Hospital officials say the device now is used by 17,000 people worldwide and eventually will gain more than 30,000 new users each year.
Dr. Enrico P. Veltri, director of cardiology at Sinai and head of it sudden cardiac death prevention program, said researchers are working on new technology to simplify surgery. The current device requires a complicated operation in which doctors must literally crack open the patient's chest.
Veltri said today the heart problems of those in the support group are no way similar to what has hospitalized President Bush. "The president has a benign ailment, and his problem is not related at all to what our patients are working with," Veltri said.
He said the newer device has been attempted with 10 patients and that it has worked for seven of them. The other three used the standard device.
"It's very preliminary data, but it's very encouraging that seven of the 10 were able to go without the complicated surgery," he said.
Meanwhile, the standard instruments are producing stellar results, Sinai officials said. They said AICD devices have reduced sudden cardiac death among users from the expected rate of 30 percent of cardiac arrest victims to 2 percent during the first year of use.
It has earned Sinai Hospital a place in the Space Technology Hall of Fame for using NASA technology in its development.
Samuel Winik, 67, of Pikesville, didn't have to wait to see how well his defibrillator functioned. Two days after it was implanted in February 1990, he suffered arrhythmias while still in the hospital, and the device fired to correct his heartbeat.
Winik said he was reluctant to have the surgery and tried other measures before agreeing to the implant. His wife, Debbie, said he sometimes complains of slight discomfort from the device, but both of them are glad he has it.
"In the beginning it was upsetting emotionally," Sam Winik said. "But as you talk to more people who have it, as do the people here, you accept it and know it can save your life."