Skip 
Navigation Link

1215 South Walnut Ave.
Demopolis, AL 36732 map map 

Access to Care: 800.239.2901

Health Policy & Advocacy
Resources
Basic InformationMore InformationLatest News
Calling All Blood Donors …Even Older Drugs Are Getting Steep Price Hikes, Study FindsAs Medical Marketing Soars, Is Regulation Needed?Radiation Doses From CT Scans Vary WidelyU.S. Leads Health Care Spending Among Richer Nations, But Gets LessIs Your State a Hotspot for Obesity-Linked Cancers?Health Tip: Choose the Right DoctorFDA Warns Companies on Dangerous, Unapproved Stem Cell TreatmentsMore U.S. Kids Dying From Guns, Car AccidentsRoad Rules on Smartphone Use Are Saving Bikers' Lives, TooAHA: Should Pacemakers, Defibrillators Be Recycled -- and Reused in Others?California Farm Tied to E. coli Outbreak Expands Recall Beyond Romaine LettuceHealth Tip: Use Medical Devices SafelyCalifornia Farm Implicated in Outbreak of E. coli Tied to Romaine LettuceFentanyl Now the No. 1 Opioid OD KillerHospitalizations Rising Among the HomelessElectronic Health Records Bogging Docs DownMore Are Seeking Mental Health Care, But Not Always Those Who Need It MostMillions of Americans Still Breathing Secondhand Smoke: ReportNew Approach to Opioid Crisis: Supervised Heroin Injection Programs?Many Americans Unaware of Promise of Targeted, 'Personalized' Medicine: PollAs Gun Violence Grows, U.S. Life Expectancy DropsMost Americans Lie to Their DoctorsOpioid Crisis, Suicides Driving Decline in U.S. Life Expectancy: CDCWant to Learn CPR? Try an Automated KioskHealth Surrogates Often in Dark About Loved One's WishesRestaurant 'Health Grade' Posters Could Mean Safer DiningSmoking Bans Might Help Nonsmokers' Blood PressureWarmer Winters, More Violent Crimes?Are Food Additives Good or Bad? Consumer Views VaryDrug Studies in Children Often Go Unfinished: StudyFDA Moves to Restrict Flavored E-Cig Sales, Ban Menthol CigarettesAgeism Costs Billions in Health Care DollarsAmerica Is Worried About Antibiotic ResistanceRed Cross Issues Urgent Call for Blood Ahead of the HolidaysUnder Pressure, Juul Withdraws Most Flavored E-Cigs From MarketMany Drugstores Won't Dispense Opioid Antidote as RequiredNew Cholesterol Guidelines Focus on Personalized ApproachAHA: Defibrillators Can Help Kids Survive Cardiac Arrest, TooFDA Will Ban Many Flavored E-CigarettesU.S. Smoking Rates Hit Record LowOnly a Quarter of Opioid Painkillers Taken After Most SurgeriesHome Health-Care Tests: Proceed With CautionFDA Takes on Flatulent CowsWhy Bystanders Are Less Likely to Give CPR to WomenCellphone Radiation Tied to Upped Odds for Cancer -- in RatsHealth Tip: FDA Discusses Possible Risks of Bodybuilding ProductsU.S. Hospitals Making Headway Against InfectionsAfter Mass Shootings, Blood Donations Can Go UnusedLead in Hair Dyes Must Go: FDA
Questions and AnswersVideosLinksBook Reviews
Related Topics

Health Insurance
Healthcare

AHA: Should Pacemakers, Defibrillators Be Recycled -- and Reused in Others?


HealthDay News
Updated: Dec 18th 2018

new article illustration

TUESDAY, Dec. 18, 2018 (American Heart Association) -- Reuse and recycle. Americans employ the concept on nearly everything. Now, medical researchers are working hard to apply it to pacemakers and defibrillators.

Millions of sick people in low-income nations suffer or die each year because they can't afford these implantable medical devices that could help regulate their heartbeat. Researchers argue that many people could be saved if they had access to the tens of thousands of pacemakers and defibrillators removed annually from Americans who have either died or received an upgraded device.

A heart that beats dangerously slow often causes the person to feel lethargic and breathless, sometimes even causing fainting. A pacemaker can be used to regulate the heart's rhythm, speeding up the heart rate as needed. Implantable defibrillators treat life-threatening fast heart rhythms in addition to their function as a pacemaker.

Research has found that many of these devices have five to 10 years of battery life left once they've been removed. In addition, a study published last year in the World Journal of Cardiology shows that more than 9 out of 10 people with pacemakers would donate them to others in need if given the chance.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees U.S. medical devices, prohibits the use of recycled heart devices. The FDA has deemed them for "single use" only, mainly citing safety concerns.

The nonprofit organization My Heart Your Heart, a program at the University of Michigan, collects used pacemakers and defibrillators from patients and funeral directors. It then works with a contractor to sterilize the devices according to specific protocol outlined by the FDA.

The refurbished devices are ultimately prepared for shipment to certain foreign governments that have explicitly requested them, said Dr. Thomas Crawford, a cardiologist and director and principal investigator for My Heart Your Heart.

"We're essentially providing therapy that basically would not be available to these countries at all. That is really what we're all about," he said.

The organization hopes to prove that with proper processing, recycled devices are safe for reuse through a clinical trial abroad in which people are randomly assigned either a refurbished device or a new one.

One reason why the use of recycled heart devices isn't a consideration in the U.S. is because no hospital would deny a patient in need of a pacemaker, said Dr. Stephen Vlay, a professor of medicine at New York's Stony Brook University and a proponent of recycling devices.

"In the United States, we're fortunate to live in a society where essential emergency medical care is available regardless of ability to pay," he said. "But if you're in underserved areas in Africa, Asia or Latin America and you need a pacemaker, and you have no money, you will have to survive with a heartbeat of 30 beats a minute until you die. And that may be much sooner rather than later."

Pacemakers average around $5,000, Vlay said. Defibrillators cost about three times that much. Neither type of device should be simply thrown away because of their lithium ion batteries, which is why they must be removed from bodies before cremation. Otherwise, they would cause an explosion.

"You have about 5,000 hospitals in the United States," Vlay said. "If each of them explants 10 viable devices and discards them, that's approaching (an average) $500 million dollars a year in viable medical equipment that gets destroyed."

Avoiding that kind of waste helped inspire the My Heart Your Heart project.

It started with a donation from a man whose wife had died within three months of getting a pacemaker implanted.

After the funeral home removed the device from his wife, Crawford said "the husband brought us the device saying, 'I hope somebody can reuse it because I was told this was going to last for 12 years.'

"There are numerous times when we actually get to talk to families that donate these devices. I believe the sheer donation allows the families to feel more at peace with what has happened to their loved one," said Crawford, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan.

"And oftentimes they'll say, 'Oh you know, my mother was really very big on recycling. … I know she would be proud that we actually sought a way for her to be honored and to continue making a positive impact in the world.'"