CHENNAI: The first thought of a pacemaker for anyone is a small white device much like a transistor from the mid-80s, forming a lump under their grandfather’s white shirt. But when Wilson Greatbatch - whose implantable pacemaker was sewn up into the body of a patient with an ailing heart - passed away on September 28, it barely made news. However, with the advent of better research and heavily-funded medical firms, pacemakers have gotten smaller, are loaded with more features and the process is a ‘snip’ as one cardiologist puts it.
There are six major pacemaker implant centres in Chennai now with dedicated cardiologists trained in electrophysiology to man them. “Almost any cardiologist can conduct a pacemaker implant as long as they have the setup,” explains a senior cardiologist in a Government Hospital. However, with a number of elderly people coming in with atrio-ventricular blockages or even arrhythmias (irregularities with the heart beat), the need to have pacemakers installed, has not slackened any, agree cardiologists.
“We get at least three people a week coming in for referrals for a pacemaker,” explains Dr Bhimshankar, who works extensively with pacemakers at Frontier Lifeline Hospital. “When we first began working with pacemakers in 1989, the devices were much larger and it was like a major surgery to install them into the heart correctly,” recalls Dr K Chandrasekhar, Cardiologist at Fortis Malar Hospitals.
An implanted pacemaker would cost as much as Rs 10,000 two decades ago (a princely sum those days), he reveals. Today, a pacemaker alone would cost anywhere between Rs 60,000 to over Rs 2 lakh. “Sort of like a gradation between the bottom end product and top of the line,” adds Dr Bhimshankar.
While expenditure in terms of hospitalisation and medications could drive those numbers up in private hospitals, the base charge of the machine is all that is taken in Government hospitals, confirmed a doctor there. He added that they had excellent cardiac-care provisions, but a wait list, as well.
These days, most people over 60 years do not even fret at the thought of having a pacemaker implanted, marvels Dr Shankar, “Except for financial constraints, most people have no qualms or worries and consider it a small procedure.” With the promise of a perfectly normal life post implantation, especially for children with Congenital Complete Heart Block, Chennai’s pace-wearers seem a contented lot. “Truly, it is a live-saving device,” agrees Dr Chandrasekhar.