Bruce Fisher has a guardian angel, and he carries it near his heart wherever he goes, because this angel has the best chance of saving his life in the future.
But Fisher’s guardian angel is one hailing from the modern age of medical and technological advances.
Called the AngelMed Guardian device, the cutting-edge heart attack detection monitor was implanted in Fisher on Sept. 15, 2009, through a pilot program at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.
Fisher, a 60-year-old Long Beach native, moved back to his hometown in April 2009 after he retired from a career in teaching. An avid surfer, Fisher said he noticed fatigue and some difficulty during paddles out into the waves at Bolsa Chica State Beach a year ago. When the situation progressed to the point where Fisher couldn’t carry his surfboard more than a few feet, he made an appointment to see his doctor.
“The doctor did an EKG (electrocardiogram) and nothing really showed up,” Fisher said. “I thought I was going to get a stint put in, but when there was further examination, the doctors found severe blockage in the arteries to my heart and I had a quintuple bypass.”
The fact that Fisher might have had a heart attack and never would have felt any pain was a factor in his decision to participate in the AngelMed study. Fisher was diagnosed with silent cardiac ischemia, a condition in which blood flow to the heart is restricted, but the typical chest pain symptoms aren’t noticeable.
In the year since the AngelMed Guardian system was implanted in Fisher, his heart’s electrical signals have been registered through a small wire positioned inside the heart, and a baseline has been recorded. Any deviations in the monitor’s electrical signals would alert Fisher through a sequence of vibrations to either call his doctor for a checkup within 24 hours or go to the emergency room immediately.
Omid Vahdat, the cardiologist who performed Fisher’s surgery, implanted the device under the skin in the upper left side of his chest. Due to the data-gathering process in the AngelMed study, Fisher said his device was turned off for the first six months. However, it has alerted him a couple times in the past few months — but not because he was experiencing cardiac arrest.
“My (device) went off because I had a kidney stone, and the response from my heart made it vibrate,” Fisher said. “I also have a sleep apnea. Mine is set pretty sensitively.”
Besides protruding slightly, Fisher said he hardly notices the device’s presence and he still surfs, swims, lifts weights and runs regularly.
“I feel much healthier mentally and physically,” Fisher said. “I’ve changed my lifestyle. I’m conscious about my diet and what I eat. And what has really been so great is that I have a team of doctors and nurses who care about me and how I am doing.”
Last year, the MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center was one of only 14 hospitals in the country participating in the clinical trial of the AngelMed Guardian system.
Dr. John Messenger, a Long Beach Memorial cardiologist who has implanted 10 AngelMed devices in patients to date, said the hospital was chosen to participate because the medical center has been on the cutting edge of electrophysiology device implants. The AngelMed devices have the potential to reduce the time it takes the patient to receive treatment when he or she is having a heart attack and therefore minimizes heart muscle damage to improve the patient’s chances of survival, Messenger added.
“More than 25% of patients who have heart attacks don’t have much warning,” Messenger said. “A second heart attack within the first year of survival is very common and unfortunately, most patients don’t go to the emergency room until three hours after symptoms start. There’s a saying that goes, ‘time is muscle.’”
In addition to sending an early warning, AngelMed also serves to distinguish those who are in the throes of cardiac arrest from those who have disorders that can mimic angina, such as acid reflux.
“Some people are totally disabled by the thought that something might happen to them (after a first heart attack),” Messenger said, who is a heart attack survivor himself. “We’re still in Phase I of the study, which is reviewing the safety and efficacy … but I’ve seen excellent reliability in this device so far … I see the future moving toward devices without (heart) implants, so it would only be under the skin and less invasive.”
Messenger said the next step in the AngelMed study is an approval from the Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to add the device in current pacemakers on the market. Visit www.angel-med.com or www.memorialcare.org.