The Power of Pacemaker Donations

The good news for developing nations is that many are beginning to get some of the infectious diseases that have long plagued their populations under control.  Unfortunately, the burden of disease is shifting to chronic diseases.  Of particular concern is cardiovascular disease.  From 1990 to 2020, it is expected to increase by 137%.  It is impacting people in developing countries at younger ages than here which affects their economic productivity and therefore the well being of their families.  

In the United States, when someone develops a heart condition, pacemakers and defibrillators (ICDs) provide fairly easy remedies.  In developing nations these devices are not an option when they cost upwards of $8,000 and the average wage is between $50 and $100 a month.  It is estimated that 1 to 2 million lives could be saved or enhanced with a pacemaker or defibrillator.  

“How can we get these people pacemakers?”  you may be asking yourself.  Well, there is something we can do to help.  People may opt to donate their pacemakers.  A study conducted by the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center found that 90% of their participants would be willing to donate their device to be sent overseas, but few knew that the option existed or how to go about doing so.  If a person is receiving a device upgrade (i.e. from a pacemaker to a defibrillator) and the device has enough battery life left, a patient can request to have the device and donate it to charity.

More after the jump.
Just as people having wills and advanced directives, they can have living wills for pacemakers with directions on how to handle the device post-mortem.  These living wills are unofficial documents through which a person can designate what she wants done with her device after death, including donating it to charity.  Furthermore, it is not infrequent for funeral homes to have devices sitting around which they have removed prior to cremation since the device will explode when heated to high degrees and damage the crematorium.  Funeral home directors may also ask families if they would be willing to donate the pacemaker of a loved one to send overseas.  

There are a few options for people wishing to contribute to the cause.  Currently the Penn Bioethics Society is collaborating with Dr. James Kirkpatrick in collecting devices, analyzing their battery life and handing them to doctors who go overseas and will implant the devices directly.  Project My Heart Your Heart of the University of Michigan is also collecting devices in a project for the study of these devices overseas.

If you are individual who wishes to donate your pacemaker, be sure to include it in your living will and tell your family members your wishes.  If you are a Funeral Home interested in participating in the collection, we would be happy to send a representative to pick up the devices.  Please contact Chelsea Ott with any questions.  


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