Grandma is all heart with pacemaker world first

SHE’s lived with heart disease for 20 years so feels like a ‘new woman’ since becoming the first female to have a pacemaker the size of a grain of rice fitted.

Joan Smith, said she feels privileged to have had the pioneering surgery at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and had complete trust in the doctors who looked after her.

She was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy 21 years ago when she experienced pressure and tightness in her chest after a bout of flu.

Her own doctor suspected angina, but after being referred to Dr Mark De Belder at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, tests revealed cardiomyopathy.

For two decades, Joan’s condition was stabilised through medication, but after being called in for an echocardiogram last year, she was referred to Professor Nick Linker and his team for a pacemaker.

Two attempts at fitting the conventional pacemaker were unsuccessful, so Joan was referred to Dr Simon James to find out more about the new EBR pacemaker.

Joan is now recovering well after this surgery and her days of exhaustion caused by her condition appear to be behind her.

“I feel very privileged, very lucky, whatever happens now,” said Joan from Marton,  Middlesbrough, who will continue to be monitored regularly by the medical team.

“I know it was a new type of pacemaker and a new procedure, but I trusted the doctors implicitly and knew they wouldn’t have sent me down that road if they didn’t think it was going to be beneficial.”

“I felt a lot fitter straight away,” said Joan, after receiving the new pacemaker manufactured by EBR Systems Inc at The James Cook University Hospital.

“I didn’t feel any fatigue at all and it had been fatigue that I had been feeling previously – not breathlessness like some people experience.

“I feel as if I’m a new woman!”

“In my eyes, I could only gain from it and that’s why I took the decision to go ahead.

“I’m pleased I did because I feel a lot brighter and have a lot more energy,” explained the 71-year-old who is married to Alan, 75, has five grandchildren and former jobs as a laboratory worker and council receptionist.

“Before I had this operation, one of the doctors took me for a walk up the corridor and I walked for about six minutes. I could always walk on the flat, but I would get tired.”

After the surgery, Joan found that when she did the same walk again, she could walk for longer – and talk at the same time.

“I used to have to push myself to do things like go down to London to visit family and look after the grandchildren, or make arrangements for them coming here, but now, I look forward to it.”

During recent clinical trials of the device, patients whose conventional CRT pacemaker treatment had failed benefited from an 81 per cent improvement in their condition.

This led to the device being approved for use in hospitals – with The James Cook University Hospital being the first in the world to take advantage of the new type of treatment on behalf of three patients including Joan outside of a research study.

Simon James, consultant cardiologist at The James Cook University Hospital, added: “For Joan, as soon as it was switched on there was a huge change in the pumping of the heart. Her blood pressure went up from the moment it was switched on so we felt confident she would begin to feel better quickly.”