First to receive a new heart defibrillator Taneytown resident gets high-tech model to control tachycardia condition

June 20, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Larry Ricketts' friends tease him about being "Robot Man" since the 33-year-old Taneytown man became the first person in the United States to be protected against a fatal heart attack by a new high-tech defibrillator.

The defibrillator is more efficient than earlier models in delivering an electrical shock to return an erratically beating heart to regular rhythm.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the device April 30. Three weeks later, Dr. Michael R. Gold, director of the cardiac electrophysiology service at University of Maryland Medical Center, implanted one in Ricketts' chest. Gold, an assistant professor of medicine, is one of a few physicians at about 2 percent of the nation's hospitals who are approved to conduct clinical trials of new medical devices.

Ricketts responds to the "Robot Man" teasing with a grin.

On New Year's Eve 1995, he recalled, "I was sitting on the sofa. I got up and walked into the kitchen and just fell down."

The heart attack made Father's Day on Sunday particularly poignant at the Ricketts house in Fairground Village subdivision. When Ricketts was taken from the house unconscious Dec. 31, the children -- Dean, 6, Jessica, 4, and Monica, 2 -- thought their father had died.

Tammy Ricketts told her children that he was alive, but as a patient in the coronary care unit at Carroll County General Hospital, he couldn't call them.

When Tammy Ricketts told the hospital staff about the problem, she was allowed to take the children in for a few minutes.

Ricketts returned home Jan. 6, the eve of the Blizzard of 1996. He couldn't shovel snow, so after the storm, Tammy Ricketts went out to clear snow from the heat pump. "I wasn't out there more than five minutes when a neighbor came and just started shoveling," she said.

In the next two months, Ricketts' doctor prescribed various medicines, but none worked.

Ricketts returned home exhausted every night from his job with Asplundh Tree Service.

He suffered dizzy spells.

He always had been athletic and played men's league baseball until a knee injury sidelined him six years ago.

After the heart attack, he couldn't climb a flight of stairs without getting out of breath.

In late March, Ricketts' employer changed health insurers and the family had to change doctors.

Dr. Scott Jerome, the family's new physician, referred Ricketts to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where tests showed that he had life-threatening arrhythmia, abnormal heart beats.

Ricketts was diagnosed with tachycardia, a condition in which the heart may beat fast enough to cause cardiac arrest.

"Patients who may require high energy to get them out of a bad heart rhythm" may be candidates for the new defibrillator, said Dr. Stephen Shorosky, an electrophysiologist at the medical center.

Ricketts didn't find it difficult to decide whether to have the defibrillator implanted, not after Gold estimated his life expectancy without it as about 18 months.

"Larry had a very poorly functioning heart and people who have poorly functioning hearts or bad heart rhythms, as he did, have a high mortality rate," Shorosky said. He said the costs of the new defibrillator and older models are similar, about $25,000 apiece.

The new defibrillator is about the size of a pager, 24 percent smaller than older models. Size may be an issue for some patients, but the older models have worked well for many patients, Shorosky said.

Ricketts will have to stay away from compact disc players, "boom boxes" and cellular phones because the electromagnetic fields they generate can interfere with the defibrillator. No problem, he said, especially the boom boxes.

Ricketts said his priority in life now is to "play with my kids more."

Tammy Ricketts said the heart attack and the months when her husband wasn't getting better have changed their lives.

"We depend on each other a lot more," she said. "Larry's not afraid to ask for help now."

Pub Date: 6/20/96

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