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Heart health: A simple tool to find a serious problem

Pacemaker recipient Don Eslinger with members of the SNMH Cardiology Department, Karen Call, left, and Michelle Hughes, who helped identify his dangerous arrhythmia.
Submitted photo |

When Donald Eslinger began experiencing dizzy spells and lightheadedness last year, he didn’t pay much attention. He wrote it off to other things, like skipping breakfast or possibly coming down with the flu.

Until the morning he and his wife were getting ready to go to breakfast, and he almost passed out in front of her.

His wife urged him to go to the Emergency Department at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) to get checked out. He was in the ER for much of the day and when tests didn’t show anything conclusive, the ER physician suggested that Eslinger’s heart continue to be monitored with a device that can be worn at home.



Eslinger was directed to the Cardiology Department where he was provided a cardiac event monitor. This portable device records any irregularity in the heart’s rhythm and can be worn for up to two weeks, or until it has recorded seven “events.”

“It’s a great tool for capturing sporadic cardiac arrhythmias,” said Karen Call, a cardiology tech at SNMH.




Electrodes are attached to the body to allow the event monitor to record irregular heart rhythms. Call said patients can press a button themselves when they feel an “event” or, as in Eslinger’s case, the monitor can be set to automatically record the events.

After he had worn the device for about three hours, he called the Cardiology Department to tell them the recorder was full. Because this is highly unusual, Call shared that it might be a monitor malfunction — but asked that he come in so the recordings could be evaluated.

When the results were reviewed by Call, she found that the monitor recorded occasions when as many as five seconds passed between his heartbeats (a healthy heart beats once per second or slightly faster).

“The thing I found most concerning was that he didn’t notice anything during these fairly significant pauses. It made me wonder what was happening with his rhythm when he was symptomatic,” Call said.

She called cardiologist Dr. Ryan Smith to assess Eslinger’s results, and Smith immediately identified the need for fast action. He arranged for Eslinger to be taken by ambulance later that day to the Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento at Mercy General Hospital, where he would have a pacemaker installed the next day.

“That part was a little shocking,” Eslinger recalled. “I never once thought about anything like that.”

SNMH Cardiology Clinical Specialist Michelle Hughes, RDCS, shared that a pacemaker is needed when the electrical system of the heart malfunctions.

An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, is common, and millions of people experience them every year. Most cases are harmless, but some are more serious and require treatment, like in Eslinger’s case.

“Mr. Eslinger is very lucky that he came in when he did,” she said.

In some cases arrhythmias have no symptoms, and in others it can cause lightheadedness, dizziness, loss of consciousness, heart “fluttering,” heart palpitations or pounding, or chest pain.

“When it comes to heart health, people often only think of the risk of heart attacks, but arrhythmias can be very serious,” shared Call.

In Eslinger’s case, the malfunction in his heart occurred when he was engaged in activity, which is why initial tests in the Emergency Department did not identify the problem while he was lying down.

The medical staff recommended the event monitor to capture how his heart was working in other environments and activities over time.

According to Call, the heart event monitor is easy to use. The electrodes can be removed to bathe and the device is small enough to put in one’s pocket.

Today, Eslinger is back to regularly volunteering for Grass Valley Police Department and working several days each week at the Grass Valley Animal Control/Shelter.

Since receiving the pacemaker, he said he feels fine and his doctor tells him that everything looks good. “They tell me I’m fixed,” he said.

Eslinger also shared his gratitude with the staff.

“I thought my care was great,” he said. “Everyone was constantly coming in to check on me and ask me how I was doing,” he said.

“Mr. Eslinger’s case was a pretty dramatic one, but it shows how important seeking care is, and how the technology we use can truly save a life,” Call said.

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.


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