Every three months, Mary McCoy got on a plane from Little Cayman and flew to Miami to have the batteries in her pacemaker checked.
She made this journey because no equipment was available in Cayman to test the batteries of her brand of pacemaker to ensure they were working.
On her latest trip to Miami in early August, accompanied by her daughter Maxine McCoy-Moore and her grandson Waid Arrowe Moore, she came back with a surprise for the Cayman Islands Hospital – its own Biotronik pacemaker battery tester.
“When I asked the hospital years ago if they could get one of these testers, I was told they didn’t have the budget for it,” said Ms McCoy-Moore.
Her mother has had a pacemaker since August 2004, which was fitted at Baptist Hospital in Miami. “It has saved her life at least five times,” said Ms McCoy-Moore.
Initially the batteries were checked every six months, but as they get older, they need to be checked every three months.
When the family travelled to see Dr. Kevin Coy in Miami each time, they met with a representative of Biotronik, who checked that the batteries in Ms McCoy’s pacemaker were operating as they should.
“He said I looked tired and I said I was tired of having to travel every three months to Miami from Cayman,” Ms McCoy-Moore said. That was when the Biotronik rep said he had been trying to donate a Biotronik pacemaker tester to Cayman but no-one would take it back to Cayman for him, she said.
“I said I’ll take it back,” said Ms McCoy-Moore. “Cayman Airways allowed me to bring it in.”
Shortly after getting off the plane in Grand Cayman, the family took the equipment to the hospital and handed it over to the cardiology unit.
This brings to four the number of pacemaker testers the hospital now has. Each brand of pacemaker can only be checked by a corresponding brand of equipment.
Cardiology technician Emily Wilson at the Cayman Islands Hospital has a Medtronic, St. Jude’s Medical, Guidant and now a Biotronik tester with which she checks that the pacemakers of 85 patients are working correctly.
She’s just missing one – an ELA Medical – and says she will soon need a new St. Jude’s Medical tester as the one she has is getting old.
She described the machines as “loaners” from the equipment manufacturers.
Most of the patients Ms Wilson sees – 60 of the 85 – have Medtronic pacemakers as patients who have pacemakers fitted in Cayman are usually fitted with that brand.
The average life span of a pacemaker battery is about nine years, but some last as long as 10 while other last five years, said Ms Wilson.
If a pacemaker is coming to the end of its life span, patients are asked to come more often to be checked. “If a patients is 100 per cent dependent on a pacemaker, we make sure the pacemaker is replaced six months before the end of its life time,” she said.
Public health patients with pacemakers that cannot be checked on the four pieces of machinery at the hospital travel to Miami or Jamaica to have them checked.
Ms Wilson said there were also a number of private patients whose pacemakers were checked either at Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital or at Dr. Joseph Barefoot’s clinic.
She is urging private patients or others who do not usually get their pacemakers checked at the Cayman Islands Hospital to register with her, so that their details are on file and accessible in case of a medical emergency.
“There are more than those 85 patients with pacemakers on island, not all are registered with me.
“I encourage them to come and register with me, even if they’re not using this facility… It’s just in case of an emergency. If they get sick on the night and an ambulance brings them here [to the Cayman Islands Hospital], the doctors here wouldn’t have the back-up information about them. I don’t have anything in the computer to say they have a pacemaker,” Ms Wilson said.
Dr. Neeraj Prasad visits Cayman every three months and replaces patients’ pacemakers or their batteries when necessary. The procedure to change the batteries of a pacemaker takes about half an hour, Ms Wilson said.
Her checks on the patients’ pacemakers determine when and if a pacemaker or its batteries should be replaced.
Having equipment at the hospital that can check the pacemakers means few pacemaker wearers have to travel off island to be checked. This is especially good news for elderly patients, said Ms Wilson.
“A lot of people who have pacemakers are elderly, some are in wheelchairs and it’s difficult for them to travel,” she said.
“All of those who have the Biotronik pacemakers don’t have to fly to Miami now,” she added.
The machinery can also check implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, known as ICDs, that some patients have fitted.