Keck Medicine of USC is the first medical center in Southern California, post-Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, to implant a new wireless device for heart failure patients. The device is designed to reduce readmissions to the hospital and empower patients to be involved in their own health information.

The CardioMEMS Heart Failure System, made by St. Jude Medical, is a tiny wireless sensor, powered by radiofrequency energy and implanted into the pulmonary artery (PA) with minimally invasive surgery. The sensor tracks PA pressure through short, daily readings that the patient conducts using a special pillow with an antenna. Physicians access the readings on a secure website. Clinical trials conducted prior to FDA approval demonstrated a 30 percent reduction in hospital readmissions.

David Shavelle, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, implanted the device in patient Alfredo Delatorre, 71, of La Puente, Calif. on Oct. 15, 2014.

“This device is a game changer for heart failure patients,” said Shavelle. “Before this device, we made medication changes based upon a patient’s symptoms and changes in their weight.  Changes in pressures within the heart often occur prior to the onset of a patient’s symptoms.  The pivotal CHAMPION clinical study that evaluated the CardioMEMS device showed that medication changes based upon changes in pressures measured by the device reduced future hospitalizations.  Now that we have access to pressure data in real time, this will allow us to respond and adjust treatment much faster; responding faster will allow us to reduce future hospitalizations for heart failure.”

Delatorre said the implant offers him a chance to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary in 2015 with his wife and two daughters, and to watch his five grandchildren grow up. Raised outside a small town in Zacatecas, Mexico that had only two doctors, Delatorre says he is amazed that he is the recipient of this life-saving technology.

“My mother used home remedies,” said Delatorre, who has suffered from heart failure for more than 10 years. “Now I have this new invention. It’s like a gift to my body. It’s like winning the lottery, but it’s better because this is a life.”

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association, killing more than 380,000 Americans every year. Cardiovascular diseases kill more Americans than all forms of cancer combined, with heart disease accounting for one in six deaths in the U.S.

Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood throughout the body. Causes include a past heart attack, high blood pressure, abnormal heart valves and diabetes. Those suffering from heart failure experience shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, increased heart rate and water retention leading to swelling of the abdomen, legs and feet and an inability to sleep lying flat due to fluid build-up in the lungs. Some patients can recover heart function and lead normal lives, some require transplants or an implanted ventricular assist device and some have limited physical function and require frequent hospitalizations. Typically, heart failure affects people age 65 or older, although it can strike at any age and sometimes during pregnancy in younger women.

Monitoring this device for Delatorre and other patients is provided by a heart failure team at Keck Medicine of USC that includes Shavelle, Michael Fong, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine; Luanda Grazette, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine; Leslie Saxon, MD, professor and clinical scholar and founder of the USC Center for Body Computing and Andrew Yoon, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine.

—By Leslie Ridgeway