Pacemakers retrieved from the deceased can be refurbished and successfully reimplanted in patients who otherwise could not afford the device, a new study demonstrates.
Dr Bharat Kantharia (University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston) and colleagues have been collecting pacemakers from funeral homes in the US with the consent of deceased patients’ families and taking them to Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai, India after they are sterilized and inspected.
A pacemaker device is designed to last anywhere between 6 and 10 years. Though FDA regulations do not permit the recycling of pacemakers for humans in the United States, we have come to find many scientific journals that say recycling pacemakers is a safe practice.
There is no reason why they can’t be reused. There may be other issues–personal, technical, legal, and other kinds of issues,” Kantharia told heartwire . There are logistical challenges to collecting reusable pacemakers, but the effort is worth it because “in India, there are people dying because of a lack of resources,” he said.
In Mumbai, 37 were implanted in new pacemaker patients and 16 were implanted in patients who needed a replacement device. Just over half of recipients had complete heart block, and the rest had sick sinus syndrome. None of the recipients of a reused device had a significant complication, such as infection or device failure, over a mean follow-up of 661 days.
The authors cite a Canadian study which showed that reusing a pacemaker saves about $33 000 compared with using a new device. Previous experience with reused pacemakers has been generally positive, but this study is the largest experience with pacemakers donated exclusively by funeral homes in the US.