Health Check: Leadless defibrillator

Arthur J. San Souci was recently in for a follow up visit at Lifespan's Cardiovascular Institute.

San Souci was first patient in Southern New England to have a new type of cardiac defibrillator implanted, replacing one that had been implanted nine years earlier that was no longer working.

What a defibrillator does is monitor heart activity, delivering a shock if needed. But it comes with risk.

"A lot of the risk of these defibrillators is from the actual lead that we put inside the heart. Acutely and then later on, the risk is accentuated from infection if you have a lead inside your veins or blood stream," said Dr. Michael Kim of Rhode Island Hospital.

When San Souci needed a new defibrillator in January, a new leadless implantable defibrillator became available. It is less invasive and just as effective.

"What you have is the generator that sits in a different location in the chest, and this lead equivalent -- or what we call a subcutaneous coil -- is underneath the skin. So, there is no wire or lead that is going in to the body, specifically the heart or the blood vessels," Kim said.

San Souci got his new defibrillator on Jan. 24, the very day it became available.

"If you need to have pacing for slow heartbeats or heart-failure pacing you would not be a candidate for the totally subcutaneous device. But if your indication is just the need for a defibrillator, which for a lot of patients is the only requirement, this device would be an equivalent device," Kim said.

San Souci said he doesn't even know it's there.

"I don't unless I really push for it, no I don't. It's totally hidden, totally out of sight, totally out of the way. It's great," San Souci said.

And he says he feels good.

"Life is good," he said.

Another benefit of the less invasive defibrillator is that it can be implanted on an outpatient basis. No hospital is stay required.