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Park Rapids woman receives new 'life-saving' device during heart surgery at Essentia

By Patrick Springer / The Forum

FARGO – Nancy Stromback was suddenly overcome by weakness two weeks ago while preparing to run an errand and was unable to move from the driver’s seat of her van.

One of her daughters found her two hours later, and she was rushed by ambulance to the hospital in nearby Park Rapids, Minn., where doctors diagnosed a heart attack.

At Essentia Health in Fargo, where she was transferred, a surgeon repaired two faulty valves in her heart. A few days after that major surgery, the cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Saeed Ally, implanted a new, less invasive device to restart her heart.

The 80-year-old woman likely became the first patient in North Dakota to receive what’s called a subcutaneous implantable defibrillator system, or S-ICD, according to Essentia.

Unlike conventional defibrillators, the new variety, made by Boston Scientific and recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, does not require insertion of a wire called a lead into the heart – sparing patients from a risky procedure.

“She looks like a rose,” Ally said of Stromback Thursday, as she was preparing to be discharged for 18 days of continued convalescence at a nursing home in Park Rapids.

Because a pacemaker earlier had been implanted in Stromback, with two leads into her heart through a vein, she was not a candidate for a conventional defibrillator, Ally said.

The less invasive S-ICD carries “virtually” no risk of infection to heart tissue, he added, and does not require the risk of threading a lead through a vein leading from the heart, which could damage the vessel or puncture an underlying lung.

The battery-powered defibrillator is implanted beneath the skin in the underarm area near the left breast.

By sending a signal to an electrode placed under the skin, it delivers an electric jolt to reset the heart’s normal rhythm and prevent dangerously rapid heartbeats or cardiac arrest.

The next generation of the device, pending FDA approval, can combine a pacemaker and defibrillator in one implant, Ally said.

“That, I believe, will be the way to go in the future,” he added. “It may make the conventional method obsolete.”

In Stromback’s case, the less-invasive S-ICD technology was “tailor made,” given her limitations, Ally said.

He said she came through the difficult heart valve surgery “far ahead of the curve in recovery from the operation. The heart valve surgery is a major ordeal for anyone.”

Stromback is looking forward to getting back to Park Rapids to continue her recovery, and soon to return home.

“I don’t like sitting and looking at four walls,” she said, adding that she feels grateful to be among the first wave of patients to receive the new device.

“I am very lucky,” she said. “I thank everyone.”

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