"In the first two to three weeks after the surgery, I still thought of the device from time to time. But soon, I almost forgot that I have it."
Eckert Baier (70)
How it all began
"About 15 years ago, I had such a severe cough that I couldn't sleep for days because of the pain," Eckert Baier remembers. He didn't rest long enough and the cold became protracted. "I was self-employed at the time," he explains. "I was very busy and didn't have time to see my physician. I thought it would go away by itself, you know how men are," he says, laughing.
Eckert Baier is a chef who has run his own restaurant for many years. Despite his illness, he continued to work as best he could. The harmless cough turned into pneumonia. When he recovered, he noticed he had hardly any energy left. Even the slightest exertion made it difficult to breathe and he needed to take a break. "This was a completely new experience since I had always been in good shape and quite active," he says about himself. In his job, too, he couldn't manage anywhere near his usual workload.
Heart Failure Diagnosis
When his condition did not improve for weeks, Eckert Baier finally went to see his physician. The cardiologist performed a catheter examination of the heart and discovered that part of the heart muscle was already dead—a result of the protracted cold.
The cardiologist diagnosed heart failure, also known as cardiac insufficiency. In heart failure, the pump function of the heart deteriorates to such an extent that the other organs are no longer supplied with enough blood and oxygen. As a result, patients quickly feel exhausted and hardly able to cope with even the slightest exertion. In Germany, about 1.8 million people suffer from heart failure.
Heart failure often develops as a result of flu-like infections and is easily overlooked in its early stages. This is what happened in Eckert Baier’s case. Looking back, he says: "It makes me angry. I have always lived a healthy life, never smoked, never drank any alcohol. And yet here I am." In severe cases like Eckert Baier's, the infection of the heart muscle can cause additional cardiac arrhythmia, which in turn increases the risk of sudden cardiac death. His physician prescribed medication to stabilize the heart as well as blood thinners against the high blood pressure, so his heart does not have to work so hard. With this drug regimen, he lived just fine and without any problems for 13 years.
Thanks to his ICD and Home Monitoring, Eckert Baier is living life to the fullest
An Implanted Defibrillator Protects Eckert Baier from Life-Threatening Arrhythmias
In 2019, his performance suddenly decreased rapidly. "I experienced a serious setback," he remembers. "It felt like back then: I could barely move, couldn't do any heavy lifting, and hardly managed to walk around the block." So, he consulted his physician again. The diagnosis: progressive heart failure. The medication did not do its job anymore. His cardiologist changed Eckert Baier's medication and advised him to get an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to prevent sudden cardiac death due to ventricular fibrillation.
He did not wait for long before deciding to take his physician's advice. The ICD was implanted in an outpatient setting under local anesthesia. The matchbox-sized device was inserted on the left side of the chest above the heart through a small incision and connected to the heart muscle via two leads. "Two hours later I could already go home," Eckert Baier remembers. "The only thing I wasn't supposed to do for a week was drive my car. Everything else I was able to do again immediately." He can feel the defibrillator located at the top left above his chest muscle with his hands. Apart from this, he usually does not notice it at all. He says: "In the first two to three weeks after the surgery, I still thought of the device from time to time. But later, I almost forgot that I have it."
Happy and Relaxed Thanks to Remote Care
Today, Eckert Baier is a happy man. The defibrillator monitors his heart with a remote feature. "My physician gave me a cell phone-like transmitter to take home." It is connected to the defibrillator and transmits all heart data to the cardiologist once a day, automatically and without any further input from the patient. In case of arrhythmia or if the ICD delivers a shock, the physician is automatically notified via e mail. Eckert Baier experienced such an episode in October. His physician called him because his defibrillator had detected sustained atrial fibrillation that could only be resolved by cardioversion at the clinic. "I'm really happy with this remote care," he says today. "It makes you feel safe and taken care of, especially, when your physician is a bit further away, like for those of us who live in more rural areas."
This article originally appeared on the website of BVMed.