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Dr. Max Gomez: Nerve Stimulation Offers Hope For Heart Attack Victims

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CBS New York (con't)

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NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — Congestive heart failure is the fastest growing form of heart disease in the country and victims have few options once medications stop helping.

Doctors have become very good at saving heart attack victims, but once damaged the heart muscle can weaken until it eventually fails.

Now, an experimental nerve stimulator may offer hope, CBS 2′s Dr. Max Gomez explained.

Heart attack Stephen Brown has had a triple bypass, a pacemaker, and defibrillator implanted, but the damage to his heart has finally caught up with him. Brown is in heart failure.

“Within the past 6 months I had been increasingly fatigued, dizzy occasionally, a little more trouble sleeping, a little more trouble breathing,” Brown said.

The 74-year-old’s heart medications weren’t helping anymore, he’s too old for a transplant, and didn’t want an implanted mechanical heart pump.

“Unless I felt it was absolutely necessary I looked for some alternate therapies that were less invasive,” Brown said.

He volunteered for a clinical trial at Mt. Sinai Medical Center that uses a completely different approach to helping the heart beat stronger. Dr. Brian Kopell explained a nerve stimulator electrode will be attached to a nerve in the neck.

“This operation is something called neuromodulation. Which are devices that are implanted into the body to regulate how the nervous system works,” Dr. Kopell explained.

The first part of the treatment involves inserting a sensor into the heart. Next, an electrode is attached to a nerve in the neck called the vagus which works its way down to the heart.

When the sensor detects heart problems it sends a signal to a control unit in the chest which then stimulates the nerve in the neck.

Dr. Vivek Reddy said that the treatment should have positive long-term effects.

“We see that the heart function actually does improve. So, the ejection fraction, the ability of the heart to squeeze is actually improved. This is an improvement that is sustained not just in the short-term but is sustained out to at least 24 months,” Dr. Reddy said.

Interestingly, the nerve stimulation also reduces inflammation in the heart and improves the heart’s ability to use oxygen.

The system is called cardio-fit and has been approved in Europe but is a few years away from approval in the U.S.

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