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New Help for a Grateful Heart

He walks more slowly these days, but the twinkle in his eye and his easy smile reveal a profound appreciation for life.

For 70-year-old Ken Worden, the appreciation grew from a quarter-century of difficult but treatable heart problems -- an aortic valve replacement in 1986, an aortic aneurysm in 1990 and a pacemaker implanted in 2006. All took place at Sanford Heart Center in Fargo.

The next chapter arrived in 2012. Last June, Ken and his wife, Sharon, learned from a Sanford cardiologist that his pacemaker would need replacement due to a manufacturer’s recall. Many couples would react with alarm -- even fear, but not the Wordens.

“We’d been through so much over the years that we just took it in stride. The people at Sanford have taught us to do,” says Sharon. “We also had such confidence in the Sanford heart specialists. They’d gotten us through a lot, and we knew they’d get us through this, too.”

The “how” was what surprised them. Introducing laser lead extraction!

Difficult problem, impressive solution

Thousands of heart patients know the lifesaving benefits of heart devices such as pacemakers and ICDs (implantable cardioverter-defibrillators). But they also know that in rare instances these devices may need replacement due to an infection or a manufacturer’s recall.

In device removal, the biggest challenge can be the leads -- the thin, flexible wires inserted into the heart and connected to the device. Leads that have been in place for six or fewer months are relatively easy to remove. But leads that have been in place for years are difficult due to strong adherence to the heart and blood vessel walls, including scar tissue.

Says Dr. Christopher Pierce, fellowship-trained Sanford cardiac electrophysiologist: “Laser lead extraction is an impressive solution to a difficult problem. It allows precise, specific removal of these leads in addition to all the benefits of the minimally invasive approach -- shorter hospital stay, easier recovery and quicker return to everyday life.”

Sanford is one of a small number of heart centers in the country to offer this leading-edge procedure.

Surgery one day, home the next

Ken underwent laser lead extraction on June 22.

“I was ready to get this problem resolved and move on,” says Ken. “No fears.”

Dr. Pierce and his surgical team had confidence, too. Expertly trained and well-equipped, they had everything in place to ensure a successful outcome.

Sharon saw the success almost immediately.

“When I went up to the ICU to see him that night I was amazed,” she says. “I expected he’d be sleeping, but he was wide awake, talking and feeling good with his brand new pacemaker. Even his color was better than it had been for months.”

The next morning they went home.

“I couldn’t believe it! Heart surgery one day and home the next,” says Sharon. “I was a little nervous, but everything went just fine in his recovery.”

For Ken, a key question was when he could resume driving. A 10-year volunteer with Lutheran Social Services, Ken travels the county four days a week, visiting seniors and delivering meals.

Two weeks after his surgery he was back on the road.

Lessons of the heart

When it comes to care of the heart, Ken and Sharon put their trust in Sanford.

“They’ve been exceptional from the very start -- caring, attentive and very professional,“ says Sharon. “That’s the kind of team you want treating you. That’s why we’d never go anywhere else.”

But there’s another blessing that ranks even higher.

“Our family is everything,” says Ken, nodding to the many photos in the living room in their Battle Lake, Minn., home.

“Faith, too,” adds Sharon. “In every difficulty, faith has carried us through.”

Married 44 years, Ken and Sharon relax in lawn chairs on the shores of crystal-clear Battle Lake. Water sparkling and a gentle breeze blowing, Sharon reaches over and takes his hand.

Hearts together have a power all their own.

Posted Date: August 2012