A dog and a dream: partnering for pacemakers

May 21, 2019

A new collaboration between a human hospital and the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine has hearts everywhere going pitter-patter.

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When Terry Matula was in college, she lost her beloved cocker spaniel Gator to congestive heart failure because she was unable to afford the pacemaker her dog needed. When her husband's pacemaker needed to be replaced, her experience with Gator inspired her to help dogs in need.

“When I was studying to become a nurse 20 years ago, I learned that pacemakers for human beings could be utilized in dogs as well,” said Matula, now a board-certified cardiovascular nurse at the Medical Center, Navicent Health (MCNH). In fact, the pacemakers used in dogs are the same ones used in people.

So, she requested her husband's used pacemaker and asked veterinarians at the University of Georgia (UGA) College of Veterinary Medicine if it might help a dog with cardiac disease. After receiving an enthusiastic “yes,” Matula connected the cardiac administration team at MCNH with veterinarians from UGA, and a life-saving collaboration was born.

The Pacemaker Donation Program is simple: When a patient receives a replacement or upgraded pacemaker, the patient is offered the option of donating the used device to the program. Explanted pacemakers are then sterilized and shipped to UGA. Any pet treated at UGA can participate.

Many of the used devices have at least 5 years of battery life remaining, offering dogs the chance to live longer. Those with less battery life are used to teach UGA veterinary students. Since the program began last year, 41 pacemakers have been donated, six of which have been implanted into canine patients.

“Developing a relationship with Navicent Health and our cardiology service has been a really rewarding experience,“ UGA cardiologist Gregg Rapoport, DVM, DACVIM, told Georgia's WSB-TV news. “It has been a great example of teamwork and of selflessness and generosity on the part of Navicent Health and its patients.”

One hundred percent of the pacemaker recipients at MCNH have donated their used devices to the program. “It makes them feel like the situation they're going through that's not necessarily so pleasant has a silver lining,” Matula told WSB-TV news.