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A Tiny, Lifesaving Invention

SNMH Now Providing Pacemaker Services, Close to Home

by Mary Beth TeSelle, Special to The Union
Pacemakers are most commonly needed among older patients, particularly thosein their 70s and 80s. Once implanted, pacemakers typically resolve all symptomsassociated with irregular heart rhythms.

There are currently about 300 million people worldwide living with one… Each year about 600,000 more are implanted. And in terms of benefit to one’s health and low risk of side effects and problems – there’s really nothing like.

What is it? The simple, yet lifesaving and life-changing, pacemaker.

N. Rohde Woodruff, MD, PhD

“It is really one of the best medical inventions around today,” says N. Rohde Woodruff, MD, PhD, Cardiologist at Grass Valley Cardiology Group and Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “The pacemaker only intervenes when it is needed, and people generally don’t feel it at all and are unaware of it. Except for the fact that they feel better and no longer have symptoms!”



The pacemaker has been around for more than 60 years. The first such device was created and implanted in 1958.

“It was the size of a Kiwi brand shoe polish tin,” Dr. Woodruff explains. “In fact, that’s what was used as a mold for the device – a shoe polish tin!”



Used to treat irregular heartbeats and electrical problems within the heart, a pacemaker identifies when the heart is experiencing an electrical malfunction and artificially stimulates the heart. They can be implanted temporarily to treat a slow heartbeat after a heart attack, surgery or medication overdose. Or they can be implanted permanently to correct a slow or irregular heartbeat or, in some people, to help treat heart failure.

Untreated irregular heart rhythm can cause symptoms including fainting, lightheadedness or dizziness, lack of energy, fatigue, shortness of breath and exercise intolerance.

Dr. Woodruff says the pacemaker typically addresses the heart’s irregular rhythm so well that symptoms are completely resolved.

“Patients who need a pacemaker are used to noticing their heart rhythm – skips, pauses or catches,” he explains. “Once the pacemaker is implanted, they don’t notice any of that because their heart rhythm is normal.”

Over the years, pacemaker implantation has evolved into a fairly simple, outpatient procedure. A cardiologist will implant the device through the patient’s non-dominant shoulder, using an X-ray to help guide the placement. The device itself is a little over an inch across and roughly a quarter inch thick.

“Our patients generally spend half a day at the hospital and then are discharged to go home,” Dr. Woodruff says. “Their recovery is limited only by the fact that the tissue around the wires or leads needs some time to heal and strengthen so we say no lifting of the affected arm for a few weeks. Other than that, patients are free to resume regular activities.”

And now, patients in

Nevada County no longer have to make the drive to Sacramento or elsewhere to have a pacemaker implanted. Dr. Woodruff began performing the procedure here in Grass Valley at SNMH earlier this year.

“I came to Grass Valley from Michigan a couple of years ago and I had performed hundreds of pacemaker implantations there with great results,” Dr. Woodruff says. “It seemed a natural fit to offer the service here in Grass Valley, too. And the team at SNMH was very much on board.”

In fact, Dr. Woodruff says SNMH went above and beyond in terms of preparing to provide the service to patients, training staff, simulating the procedure, and providing educational opportunities.

“They really went the extra mile and the end result is that we are now able to offer this service to patients in a convenient location, close to home – and the quality of care is exceptional. It’s really a great benefit to the community.”

Dr. Woodruff says he has already implanted about a dozen pacemakers this year and he expects that number to continue to increase. He says the typical pacemaker patient is usually in their 70s or older, however sometimes a younger person can suffer electrical problems that benefit from a pacemaker too.

In addition to regulating the heart’s rhythm, Dr. Woodruff points out that pacemakers also provide an added layer of protection by providing constant monitoring of the heart’s function.

“The hidden advantage to a pacemaker is that it’s monitoring your heart all the time,” Dr. Woodruff explains. “For example, if you have atrial fibrillation, it can determine when the episode happens. The pacemaker has radio frequency in it which communicates to a bedside device which then transmits the data so that your doctor can download it and analyze it. It’s an amazing safety mechanism that can pick up other things that may be happening in the heart.”

And now, this remarkable medical invention can be had right here, in our community.

Cardiology Services at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital

Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital offers local care for a wide variety of cardiology conditions. This may include patients experiencing cardiac arrest; congestive heart failure; symptoms of chest pain or discomfort; racing or slowing heart rate; shortness of breath; lightheadedness; fainting; or dizziness.

In addition to the recently added pacemaker clinic, the SNMH cardiology department offers a full spectrum of clinical services and diagnostic testing, including EKGs; resting and stress echocardiography; short- and long-term heart monitoring devices; exercise stress tests; nuclear stress tests; tilt table tests; and transesophageal echocardiogram.


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