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Devices Help Prevent Heart Failure

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At 75, Bob Hansen stays plenty busy running his own insurance company. But he hasn't always been so active.

"Fatigue was my big problem," he says. "It wore me out to walk out of my condominium out to the mailbox and back."

Bob was suffering from congestive heart failure. His heart was too weak to keep up with the demands of his body.

Dr. Roger Freedman, a University of Utah cardiologist says, "Some patients with heart failure don't feel strong enough to go shopping. They don't feel strong enough to drive a car or to climb stairs."

Dr. Freedman says medications are the mainstay of treatment. But it's not always enough.

"The vast majority of patients with heart failure have enlarged hearts that are squeezing poorly, and on top of that, many have dis-synchrony of the heartbeat, which just compounds the problem," Dr. Freedman says.

A healthy heart contracts and turns blue all at once. But the failing heart beats out of sync. First one side squeezes then the other a split second later.

"The blood kind of sloshes back and forth within the heart, rather than being ejected out."

That's where a new generation of pacemakers and defibrillators can help, putting the heart back in sync.

"These are devices, either pacemakers or defibrillators that pace the right and the left side of the heart simultaneously and re-synchronize the heartbeat to get back as much efficiency as possible."

Doctor Freedman took part in a nationwide study that found patients who got the resynchronization devices lived longer and had fewer hospitalizations.

"For the patients who have not sufficiently improved on the medications, this will become standard therapy, and it may postpone the need for heart transplantation or mechanical assist devices in some of these patients."

As for Bob, it's made all the difference in the world.

"I'm tickled to death I'm here," he says. "I'm alive. I'm enjoying a good life. I'm being productive. I am having a great time with my daughter and grandkids. And I wouldn't be experiencing that without the defibrillator."

The resynchronization devices are reserved for the sickest of patients with heart failure, where medications aren't enough to help them perform everyday activities.

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