Medical Moment: New cardiac care plan keeps Notre Dame alum moving

Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 5:36 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - This year, more than 356,000 people in the U.S. will experience a cardiac arrest – their heart will just stop.

It’s caused by arrhythmias that prevent the heart from pumping blood. Now, new technology may prove to be a lifesaver for people who suffer a cardiac arrest.

84-year-old Joe Mulligan lives and breathes for the Fighting Irish. As a 1959 alum, Joe gives tours of the campus, sings in the choir, and, of course, never misses a game. In fact, it was 10 years ago when...

“The weekend of the Notre Dame-Navy game, and I got up that morning and felt terrible,” Mulligan recalled.

That was the first sign of his cardiac arrest. Five years later, it happened again.

“When the heart stops pumping blood, there’s no blood going to the brain. And within about five to 10 seconds, the patient will collapse,” said Dr. Bradley Knight, an electrophysiologist at Northwestern.

Traditionally, Joe would be given an implantable cardioverter defibrillator or ICD – it uses thin wires, or leads, that are placed directly into the heart to deliver electric currents if his heart stops again.

“They’re electrical cables surrounded by insulation,” Dr. Knight explained. “And over time, these leads have the potential to break or to fail.”

Northwestern Electrophysiologist Bradley Knight instead used a first-of-its-kind extravascular implantable cardioverter defibrillator or EVICD – the difference? It doesn’t place wires directly into the heart.

“A major advantage of that approach is that the lead is now under the bone, not on top of the bone. The energy it takes to shock the heart is significantly lower,” Dr. Knight continued.

A worldwide clinical trial found the EVICD was 98% effective. 92% of patients experienced no major complications. The new ICD lasts up to 11 years, compared to eight years for the traditional one. Using less electricity, with less risk of blockage of veins and blood infections.

The device is still waiting for FDA approval, but officials from Medtronic are still working on the device.