A New Pace

The leadless pacemaker is inserted through a small incision in the patient’s upper leg. The entire procedure takes less than 30 minutes and leaves no scarring.

Photography by Daniel Smyth


You wouldn’t expect to find a man who just received a pacemaker to be practicing his short game at the golf course. But try telling that to Bill Thomason.

“I behaved for a week,” laughs the 70-year-old. “Quality of life is worth a lot at my age. If you have to stick your head in the sand, it’s just no good.”

Thomason was one of the first patients in Greater Cincinnati to receive a leadless pacemaker through a clinical research trial at St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute. 

Measuring less than 10 percent of the size of a conventional pacemaker, this leadless pacemaker doesn’t require invasive surgery like its predecessors that usually require longer recovery periods.

“After receiving a traditional pacemaker,” says Mohamad Sinno, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist with St. Elizabeth Heart &
Vascular Institute, “a patient needs at least six weeks of recovery. And after the surgery they can’t extend their arms or lift more than 15 pounds for several weeks after the procedure.

“There are no restrictions with the leadless pacemaker.”

That was what Thomason wanted to hear.

“I was happy with not having a lot of restrictions,” says Thomason. “I didn’t feel any ill effects, and never even felt it kick in.”

The leadless pacemaker is inserted through a small incision in the patient’s upper leg. The entire procedure takes less than 30 minutes and leaves no scarring.

“Traditional pacemakers require a surgical incision into the chest wall,” says Dr. Sinno. “Wires inserted through the veins into the chambers of the heart are connected to a power-pack that is sewed in under the skin.”

With a heart rate that had dropped to a dangerously low 38 beats a minute, Marlene Patrick would have benefitted from a pacemaker, but her doctor thought it was too risky.

“About a year ago,” Patrick says, “my doctor told me I wasn’t a candidate for a pacemaker because I probably wouldn’t make it through the surgery.”

After receiving the leadless pacemaker, Patrick no longer suffers from shortness of breath or constant fatigue.

“I do everything now,” she says with a smile.

“She does the dishes, sweeps and mops the floors,” explains her son, Tony Patrick. “I have to remind her, ‘Mom, you’re not supposed to move the whole house in an hour.’ ”

In addition to the lack of restrictions, the major long-term advantage to the self-contained leadless pacemaker is the lack of traditional pacemaker wires, known as pacing leads, that run through a patient’s veins.

“The traditional pacemaker’s weakest link is the wires,” says Dr. Sinno. “In some patients, the traditional pacing wires fail or get infected after a few years. These wires, which often are embedded within the venous system or the heart, must be removed using mechanical tools, which is a high-risk procedure.

Both patients and their families are thankful for the new technology and the expertise of their doctors at St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute.

“Dr. Sinno and his team have been awesome,” says Tony. “If you have questions, they’ll answer anything you ask.”

“I was not apprehensive at all,” says Thomason, who explained that Dr. Sinno answered all of his questions before the procedure.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare is one of just 50 medical systems in the country that offers this pacemaker through a clinical research trial.

“We just finished the initial clinical trial,” says Dr. Sinno, “and more than 670 patients nationwide have received this new technology.” Another 900 patients will be enrolled in a continuation of the study.

“Now only centers that participated in the initial clinical trial are able to continue to offer this leadless pacemaker to their patients,” adds Dr. Sinno. 

“Through the clinical trial, we were able to bring the technology to patients earlier and give information back to the device manufacturer that makes patient care even better.”

To learn more about St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute visit stelizabeth.com/heart.