Heart patients in Georgia are donating their used pacemakers to pets with cardiac issues that are in need of a little help.
Terri Mattula, a nurse who works in cardiology, spearheaded the donation program that's now being done in partnership with the Medical Center, Navicent Health, and the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Old Pacemakers Gain New Life In Pets
"I get a lot of arrhythmia patients and there is a large amount of pacemaker work," Mattula explained to CNN. "Explanted pacemakers are normally thrown away."
More than 20 years ago, Mattula's beloved dog Gator needed a pacemaker for a third-degree heart block. At the time, she and her husband, Robert Driver, couldn't afford to get their beloved pet one.
Then, just two years ago, Driver switched to a new pacemaker. With Gator in mind, Mattula held on to the used pacemaker in hopes of giving it to a pet with a heart condition like her old dog.
She reached out to UGA and asked them about possibly donating the device, which led to a partnership between the university and Navicent Health in recycling old pacemakers for animals in need of them. With modern technology, even used pacemakers are advanced and high-quality enough to keep going for about five years more by the time UGA receives them.
One of the animals who benefitted from the program is Agent Cooper, a husky-malamute mix who received a pacemaker that helped him survive thyroid cancer surgery and gave him another three years to live.
Pet pacemakers typically cost thousands of dollars, which not everyone can afford to provide for their animal companions.
"The similarities between how animals and humans are treated for certain diseases are very strong," explained Mattula in a news release from UGA. "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."
Beth Mann of Navicent Health explained that every time a patient's pacemaker is exchanged, replaced, or upgraded, they are offered the option of donating it to the program. Pacemakers are explanted and sterilized at MCNH, then shipped to UGA for the animal patients in the university's care.
Since the Pacemaker Donation Program kicked off in 2018, the university has received about 65 pacemakers for pets, according to CNN.
"Each donated pacemaker that has benefited a person will now have benefited a dog, as well," pointed out Gregg Rapaport of the UGA. "The same resource will have positively impacted twice as many lives with no downside to anyone, and we can all feel good about that."