PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Fred Fortson loves to walk — in his neighborhood, to his favorite stores, to see his nearby relatives.

But, congestive heart failure kept him from what he loved.

“I was weak all the time. I would walk a block and be exhausted,” he says. “I had to stop, take a break, until I get my wind back. It was a bad thing. I was scared.”

He was already at his maximum doses of medication to treat heart failure, and his heart was only pumping at 35 percent.

His doctors thought he would be a good candidate for a study to see how well a surgically implanted device works for this problem.

It sends electrical impulses to special nerve endings in the carotid artery. The signals then travel up to the brain.

“The brain receives that signal, and in turn, lowers the heart rate, it relaxes the blood vessels, and it tells the kidneys to pass more urine,” says Dr. Srinivas Murali, a cardiologist at Allegheny General Hospital.

All of those things take away stress on the heart.

“It’s no different than putting in a regular pacemaker,” he says, “The only difference between this and a regular pacemaker is that in a pacemaker, you put the leads inside the heart. And here the leads are going up in the neck.”

Patients in the study get randomly assigned to get the device or no device. The study follows patients for a year, with follow up every three months.

The down side? Once it’s in, you aren’t able to get certain types of medical picture taking and you won’t qualify if your blood pressure is too low.

“The question is going to be how much incremental benefit you’re going to get, is the incremental benefit you’re going to get enough to justify an invasive procedure?” says Dr. Murali.

The doctors at AGH have done just one patient for this study so far. They are looking at whether patients can exert themselves without getting short of breath,

Fred has benefitted in great strides. He immediately felt a difference after the device was put in.

“I can walk up a hill, where before, I couldn’t do that. My first couple days, I even ran one time. Walking is excellent. [There’s] no telling where I can walk to,” says Fred.


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