Heart monitor changes lives for heart failure survivors

Living fully with heart failure
Heart monitor changes lives for heart failure survivors

Bob Becker pencils in a couple hours every Tuesday to volunteer at Divine Savior Hospital. The retiree finds time to stock shelves and file papers in between his 10 or so other volunteer positions.

It’s a routine the former firefighter has had for five or six years. In that time, Becker has survived rectal cancer, prostate cancer and a hernia. He certainly wasn’t going to stop his busy schedule for heart problems.

“Just got to admit, you know, I’m getting older. What took me half a day to do takes me a day and a half,” Becker said. “Just got to pace myself.”

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. It costs an estimated $207 billion each year when you include health care services, medications and lost productivity.

Last winter, Becker was in surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital. His cardiologist had suggested getting a CardioMEMs implanted in his artery, a tiny device that allows doctors to remotely monitor vital signs and heart failure symptoms.

Every morning, Becker lays down on a special pillow that takes readings and relays the information to a computer program that his doctors can access in Madison.

A year later, Becker has seen a big improvement. He tries to cook his own meals so he can control the amount of sodium in his food. That said, he indulges in the occasional Chinese takeout. When he does, he knows SSM Health physician assistant Laurie Tierney will be on the phone.

“The big benefit of this is we can actually catch when someone is starting to have heart failure problems before they even start to have symptoms,” Tierney said.

For instance, Tierney was able to work with other doctors to adjust Becker’s medications to make sure fluid wasn’t building up around his heart. Becker said he was more awake and energized without stepping foot in the doctor’s office.

“With Bob, I think we’re seeing the same thing as we are with a lot of our other patients. Early on, we’re making a lot of adjustments, seeing that the pressures maybe aren’t where they should be, having to adjust medications maybe multiple times those first few months,” Tierney explained, “and then we see a leveling out.”

“Yeah, I think it’s been a comfort. It’s helped me,” Becker said.

Tierney says CardioMEMs is just the beginning of heart monitoring technology. She said there are other devices that patients can wear rather than having them surgically implanted.

SSM Health currently has seven patients with the CardioMEMs device, but Tierney said the cardiology staff is always looking for future candidates. She said anyone hospitalized with heart failure is a candidate, and Becker is a prime example of how it helps those patients do what they want to do.

“People maybe don’t think that if you have heart failure you can basically live a pretty full life,” Tierney said.

And Becker expects to continue his busy volunteer schedule as long as his big heart will let him.

“There are people who are a lot worse off than I am. At least I can get up, do what I can do, maybe not all of what I can do, but at least I can do some things,” Becker said. “I’m thankful for that.”