60-Second Science

Have a Heart: Donate Your Pacemaker

Recycling used but still working pacemakers could help heart patients in developing countries. Cynthia Graber reports

Pacemakers are expensive. Though some pacemaker manufacturers have dropped the price down to $800 in poorer countries, that’s still out of reach for many. One to two million people die each year because they don’t have access to this life-saving technology.

So researchers at the University of Michigan’s Cardiovascular Center have investigated pacemaker recycling—harvesting working pacemakers from the recently deceased. According to a position paper in the journal Circulation, 84 percent of heart patients said they’d be willing to give away their pacemakers after they, well, no longer need them. [Timir Baman et al., "Pacemaker Reuse"]

Most pacemakers removed before burial or cremations wind up in storage at funeral homes. One issue is sanitation—but small humanitarian efforts at recycling have found that the infection rate is about 2 percent with repurposed devices, the same as for new ones.

The university has collaborated with physicians, funeral directors, citizens and a medical device nonprofit. So if families consent, donated devices are sent to the University of Michigan. Then if the batteries have more than 70 percent power, the device is sterilized and wiped free of the former patient’s info. And then sent to people around the world, who need help with a beating heart.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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