A change of pace

Local man is the first person in the Pacific Northwest to have new pacemaker implanted that can withstand MRIs
Murray Hart, who had a pacemaker implanted, sits next to his wife, Consuelo, Friday at Rogue Valley Medical Center. Mail Tribune / Julia MooreJulia Moore

After hitting the floor when his heart "short circuited," Murray Hart figured he had nothing to lose by agreeing to become the first person in the Pacific Northwest to receive a new type of pacemaker.

Hart, who turns 80 soon, collapsed in a heap Feb. 17 at his home in the Applegate. At first, Murray stubbornly refused to be hospitalized. His family had other ideas.

"They prevailed," Hart said, laughing.

Hart was taken to Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford, where he fell under the care of Dr. Eric Peña, a familiar face.

"I knew Dr. Peña from before when he treated me for my Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome," Hart said. "I trusted him."

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is a rarely fatal disease affecting the heart ventricles.

Peña, director of RVMC's cardiac electro-physiology laboratory, was familiar with Hart's medical history, which includes diabetes and other ailments.

Judging by his latest episode, Peña knew Hart needed a pacemaker. But not just any old pacemaker.

"Based on his history, I knew that he would most likely need an MRI in the future," Peña said.

The problem was, MRIs and pacemakers do not work well together. In fact, pairing the two could be deadly, Peña said.

"The magnet in the MRI could cause the pacemaker to malfunction," Peña said. "It could induce irregular heart rhythm or cause the metal in the pacemaker to heat up and burn the heart."

Peña said 60 percent of all heart patients who receive pacemakers may benefit from an MRI when various injuries or maladies arise in the future. Other options to attain a detailed picture inside the body, such as CT scans and x-rays, are available but the MRI is often the best option because it provides a clearer picture of the body's soft tissues, such as the heart and brain.

Peña was aware that a company called Medtronic Inc. had developed a pacemaker that could withstand an MRI. The pacemaker, called the Revo MRI Pacing System, took a decade to develop, which seemed an eternity to cardiac doctors such as Peña.

"It was a big deal when this pacemaker was made available to us at RVMC," Peña said. "This is the most advanced pacemaker on the planet."

Peña informed Hart that he was a good candidate for the Revo, but there were caveats.

"The downside is that it's a new technology, and any time we're dealing with something new we proceed with caution," Peña said. "And the new pacemaker is more expensive."

Peña carefully explained to Hart that he was to receive a brand-new form of treatment at RVMC.

Hart was ready to be a local pioneer in cardiac treatment.

"What do you have to lose after you fall on the floor a few times?" Hart said.

The surgery went off without a hitch, and Hart has discovered a new well of energy to draw from in his daily life.

His wife, Consuelo Hart, said her husband shuffled around their property before the pacemaker was installed.

"Now he gets around so much better," she said.

Rich Webster, Hart's son-in-law, said Hart can now perform yard work and load wood with the best of them.

"You split 'em, and I'll haul 'em," Hart said.

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