A study of secondhand pacemakers in developing countries has ignited a debate between proponents of the idea and makers of the cardiac-rhythm devices.
Almost two years ago, a 65-year-old Philippine woman showed up at a hospital in Manila after she fainted. Doctors said her heart was beating too slowly and she needed a pacemaker to coax it into a natural rhythm. Without one, she would probably die.
But the widow of modest means couldn't afford such a sophisticated piece of medical technology.
Meanwhile, 8,000 miles away in the Detroit area, a funeral director removed a pacemaker from a person who had died, after survivors agreed the device should be reused in a needy patient abroad. Cardiologists at a nearby university tested the device to see if it still worked, and then shipped it to the Philippines for the widow.
By all accounts, she's doing just fine.
A Michigan team of doctors, funeral directors, crematorium operators and others wants to make this kind of medical pay-it-forward commonplace. The truth is, most pacemakers last anywhere from five to 10 years, and they keep ticking whether the recipient is alive or not.
But reusing pacemakers is something that large med-tech companies with Minnesota roots -- including Medtronic Inc., Boston Scientific Corp. and St. Jude Medical Inc. -- fiercely oppose.
"We do have a concern that the integrity and performance of devices intended for single use may be compromised by reprocessing and reuse," said Amy Jo Meyer, a spokeswoman for Little Canada-based St. Jude.
It's a sentiment echoed by Wendy Dougherty, a spokeswoman for Fridley-based Medtronic, the world's biggest pacemaker company, who points out the devices are complex. "We believe these practices have the potential to introduce unacceptable risks to patient safety and quality medical care," she said.