By Lisa Moir
UK charity Pace4Life has unveiled controversial plans to ‘recycle’ life saving pacemakers for use in the developing world.
The charity, born in 2012, is working in partnership with the University of Michigan and their parallel organisation “My Heart, Your Heart” to research the reuse of the devices.
Pace4Life in conjunction with The Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) have recently announced the initiative to collect and reuse the pacemakers collected in the UK.
Director of Abbey Funeral Services and executive committee member of SAIF, Jo Parker said: “As a funeral director, I have to arrange for the removal of pacemakers from the deceased if the family asks for a cremation as pacemakers cannot be cremated due to the lithium in the battery. These pacemakers are then sent away to be destroyed. Following a chance meeting with Lavan we have been working closely together on this project. As a member of the executive committee for SAIF, I have rolled this idea out to our 1,000 funeral home membership. Many Funeral Directors have signed up to Pace4Life and are coming on board. I see no reason for this not to work as the choice is destroy or recycle/reuse, the families I have dealt with are more than happy for the latter.”
After the 30th of November 2013, all pacemakers removed by SAIF members will require a completed next of kin consent form. This will allow Pace4Life to begin testing and sterilisation of the units enabling those meeting requirements to be exported for use in the the developing world. Any units not making the grade of at least 70 percent battery will continue to be recycled for the precious metal contents, providing essential funds to the project.
The initiative has been met with trepidation by global leader in pacemakers Medtronic. In a statement, Medtronic said: “Medtronic does not support the reprocessing or reuse of its implantable cardiac devices. Our devices are designed for one-time use only to maintain a consistently high level of quality and reliability that ensure safety and efficacy for patients. The sterility or performance of the device cannot be guaranteed with reused devices. These devices are complex and we believe these practices have the potential to introduce unacceptable risks to patient safety and quality medical care.”
Despite the concerns of pacemaker manufacturers, the plans are greeted with much enthusiasm from those involved. Pace4Life founder, Lavan Balasundaram, said: “By partnering with the University of Michigan in the United States, leaders in the research into the reuse of pacemakers this programme is being carefully constructed to allay any fears and ensure the highest level of care and devices are provided.”
Given that over 35,000 pacemakers are implanted in the UK each year, the potential for saving lives in the developing world by reusing old devices could be huge. As it stands, having a brand new pacemaker put in costs over £6,000, putting the life saving device out of reach of patients from poorer backgrounds. In comparison, the estimated cost of a reused pacemaker is at £200.
There are no current official examples of pacemakers being reused.
Pace4Life are looking to kick off implantation of the recycled units by the end of March 2014.