A Cincinnati surgeon is doing big things and taking recycling to a whole new level. This isn’t your every day paper or plastic kind of recycling, but recycling pacemakers. He is leading efforts with a deed that could potentially be saving lives.
Dr. Thomas Carrigan, who works at St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Edgewood, Kentucky, was on vacation in Ghana. Nearly 5,000 miles from his cardiology job, he was implanting pacemakers into patients. He made the special trip to teach doctors how to implant the devices at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in the city of Kumasi. Pacemakers can cost between $5,000 and $10,000, depending on the geographical location of the hospital. The specific devices used in Carrigan’s efforts were donated to the cause from Minneapolis based Medtronic.
Carrigan hopes that he will be able to recycle pacemakers from the United States that are no longer needed by patients. He will donate them to be implanted into poor patients in Ghana. Recycled pacemakers would be much less costly, and many of them would still have years of good use left.
The surgeon implants pacemakers every week back at the hospital where he works, and has done hundreds over the course of his career. He has been working with a local doctor who speaks English, Dr. Yaw Adu-Boakye of Ghana. The goal is for Adu-Boakye to pick up on the precise techniques of the surgery so he is able to train the other doctors in Ghana.
A friend of Carrigan’s loaned him a pair of Google Glass eye wear so the doctor could record the procedure. He wonders if it is feasible for the doctors in Ghana to get a pair of Google Glasses and stream the footage back to St. Elizabeth Hospital. That way, Carrigan could observe and assist the doctors with operations from overseas if needed.
These kinds of innovations in the medical world are revolutionary. Pacemakers that would otherwise be wasted are actually able to be recycled. The addition of the Google eye wear also impacts medical education. The functioning pacemakers would not have any use without doctors being able to implant them.
Dr. Carrigan is part of the board of directors of a research study called Project My Heart Your Heart. There is currently no regulation of the plan because pacemakers are single-use devices. Without some kind of approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it would be illegal to implant gently used pacemakers into new individuals. Carrigan and the rest of the group hope to get approval soon. Why would somebody no longer need their pacemaker before it is worn out or needs to be replaced? This can happen if the person passes away, they get infected, or if their device needs to be upgraded to a different model.
Congratulations to Dr. Thomas Carrigan for his hard work and for taking recycling to a whole new level. His recycling efforts do double duty. One day, he will help keep some once un-needed pacemakers from landing somewhere, unusable. The devices implanted into patients in Ghana would not only have a second use, but they will help improve (and even save) lives along the way. That’s a win-win if there ever was one.