Not many of us like going to the doctor. However, most of us do it at least once a year–depending on our ages and health–to make sure we’re staying healthy and to prevent diseases. The doctor runs tests, draws your blood, and checks your heart to see if there are any cardiac issues.
Speaking of cardiac issues, humans are not the only ones who suffer from these complications. Dogs can be at risk for heart problems, too, like irregular heartbeats and blockages.
These problems can be more than just major expenses that burn holes in pet owners’ pockets; they can also put our dogs’ lives in danger.
But thanks to a nurse in Georgia, some dogs now have access to old human pacemakers. These life-saving devices don’t cost much, and they could end up saving a lot of dogs’ lives.
How Did It Start?
More than 20 years ago, Terri Mattula and her husband, Robert Driver, were attending college and had adopted a Cocker Spaniel named Gator.
During a routine walk outside with Robert, Gator suddenly passed out. He was taken to an emergency vet clinic where they discovered Gator had a third-degree heart block and needed a pacemaker immediately.
Unfortunately, both Terri and Robert were still students at the time and could not afford the $3,000 device.
“If a person had that kind of block, within 24 hours they’d have a pacemaker,” Mattula stated. “Eventually Gator died from complications due to congestive heart failure.”
Years later, Robert started developing cardiac issues of his own, which led to the necessity of a pacemaker. Two years ago, however, as Robert’s heart condition progressed, he needed a new device to replace the old one.
What happened to the old pacemaker? Well, the most common thing that happens to old pacemakers is they just get thrown away.
Remembering what happened to her beloved dog, Gator, Terri asked the doctor if she could keep the old pacemaker. Terri, now a board-certified cardiovascular 17-year nurse who works at Navicent Health, did heavy research and discovered that human pacemakers can be used in dogs, as well.
With the help of her husband, she contacted the University of Georgia to see if she could donate the pacemaker to the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Kate Muers, a veterinary cardiologist, stated, “They don’t actually develop pacemakers specifically for dogs and cats, so we have to use human equipment.”
In February 2018, the couple formed the Pacemaker Donation Program, a partnership between both the University of Georgia and Navicent Health.
The Program Has Already Helped Owners And Their Dogs
Pacemaker devices for pets can cost thousands of dollars. Few pet owners can afford this type of device.
At Navicent Health, when patients need to exchange, replace, or upgrade their pacemakers, they are asked if they would like to donate their old devices to the program. If they agree, the old pacemakers are explanted and sterilized before being sent to UGA for dogs who need them.
Since the program started, 41 pacemakers have been donated. UGA typically implants five to ten pacemakers in dogs each year. Many of these devices still have at least five to six years of battery life, which can extend the life expectancy of dogs with ailing hearts.
A ten-year-old Husky named Agent Cooper, who suffered from Thyroid cancer, has had a donated pacemaker since June 2018 and is now healthy and running about.
Any dog who is a patient at UGA is eligible to receive a pacemaker should they need it. If you’d like to donate your own old pacemaker, contact Navicent Health.
What do you think of this program? Would you donate your old pacemaker to a dog in need? Let us know in the comments below!