WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — At just a few years old, a new kind of pacemaker is on track to change the game when it comes to cardiac health.

United Regional is one of the first in north Texas to use leadless pacemakers and with the first patient in the health care system to receive one, they’re not skipping a single beat.

Rick Berend’s ticker was a bit of a ticking clock after having a low heart rate and being diagnosed with AFib.

“My heart rate was running about 36 [BPM],” Berend said.

Berend is a Windthorst farmer and knew had to give when it came to making sure his heart was healthy.

“They recommended that I do this, otherwise my heart could actually stop and if nobody was there to jumpstart it, it would be over, so I fully understood that then,” Berend said.

“For some individuals, their electrical system can just fail over time,” United Regional Cardiac Electrophysiologist Darpan Kumar, MD., said.

Dr. Kumar had an idea to hopefully get Berend’s heart rate back to a normal speed. Berend became the first patient at URHCS to receive a leadless pacemaker.

“He was lifting haybales all the time, he was very active at his ranch and putting a traditional pacemaker in him would’ve actually impeded his ability to practice what he does for a living,” Kumar said. “So we offered him a leadless pacemaker.”

A leadless pacemaker is very small, it’s about the size of a pen cap. It speeds up a patient’s heart rate just as a traditional one would, but without wires or a box.

“My heart rate is up and I have a whole lot more energy, it’s pretty much changed the whole way I was living,” Berend said.

“We get into the patient’s heart via accessing the vein in their groin going into the heart and then screwing this into the muscle of the heart and then retracting our catheter,” Dr. Kumar said. “Then this [the leadless pacemaker] is basically situated into the same trabeculae muscle that this [the traditional pacemaker] is, except no wires and no box.”

It keeps Berend’s heart rate right around 60 beats per minute.

Not only is it a fraction of the size of a traditional pacemaker, but its battery life is also two to four times longer, keeping a patient’s heart in a steady rhythm for about 20 years before the battery needs replacing.

“If it doesn’t pick up a patient’s heartbeat it knows to deliver an electrical impulse into the heart which then captures the muscle of the heart and essentially paces the heart at whatever rate we set it at which is usually 60 beats per minute,” Kumar said. “It’s really remarkable and again I think the most remarkable thing is being able to offer this in our small town Wichita Falls at United Regional.

United Regional l implants 350 to 400 pacemakers a year, the majority of them being traditional ones.

“You have to meet certain criteria to qualify for a leadless pacemaker, but that’s changing,” Kumar said. “Our hope is that within the next five to seven years that anyone who requires a pacemaker will be a candidate for a leadless pacemaker, thereby avoiding having to put anything that goes in their chest requiring a major surgery or wires that go into their heart.”

“I’m one of them that believes when your time’s up, your time’s up and I didn’t think my time was up,” Berend said. “So I went in there and had it done and I have no regrets whatsoever.”

A decision Berend would make again, in a heartbeat.

Berend had the procedure done in November 2022.

Every six to twelve months, he will visit with his heart team so the pacemaker can be checked. There is technology coming out to be able to remotely check the pacemaker from home, but that’s not available just yet.

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