I was at my ACHD Cardiologist in Atlanta in November of 2007, and everything was going smooooooth. I was doing well, feeling great, and the staff seemed very pleased. I also had a checkup at the Pacemaker clinic scheduled. The Clinic is in the rear of the Cardiology department, and both departments worked well together. A lot of times, you could go to your Cardiology appointment and mention the Pacemaker appointment to the nurse. The Cardiology staff would check your blood pressure and do an EKG trace, then send you back to the Pacemaker clinic during that “lull” when you are waiting for the doctor.
So I was sitting in the Pacemaker Clinic with a chest full of EKG leads and the magnet resting over my pacer, when the tech says “Your battery needs changing!”
Whoa! Hold on a sec – “Battery change” is a code word for “surgery”, not an easy word to hear. In a moment the Pacer tech had the telephone in her hand, then she hung up and said “We’ve got a slot open in the surgical schedule, do you want to get it changed today?”
HOLY COW! Wait a minute, now… a moment ago I was golden. Now I need surgery! Let’s not rush into anything, I need a moment to catch my breath. I asked the pacemaker tech how long the battery had and when she said about three months, I told her that I wanted to put it off for a while, I needed to wrap my head around the idea of surgery. I had the replacement done about a month later.
My pacemaker battery wears out relatively quickly. Since it doesn’t “plug in” to the heart’s electrical system at the optimal point and I am 100% paced, it uses more energy than usual. I usually get about three years of use – in fact, at my last check-up a few weeks ago, they told me that it would need to be replaced in 16 to 21 months.
But there is new battery technology available – Lithium Carbon Monofluoride (Li/CFx). Li/CFx batteries can hold just as much energy but are lighter. The US Navy has been studying Li/CFx batteries to determine if they can tolerate different environmental conditions, and have been pleased with the results. The batteries are stable – they do have “performance issues” in temperatures of -20 C (4 degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale) but do not pose a problem in a 98.6 degree (37 C) environment such as the human body. They also discharge at a fairly constant rate, which gives the new Li/CFx battery developed by EaglePicher Medical Power the ability to predict when it will run out and give doctors up to six months warning. I think that is what threw me for a loop – I was fine, and then I needed to get my pacemaker replaced… and they were talking about doing it that day! That might be a little too much to absorb at once!