Carlos Ahon has been playing soccer since he was a boy growing up in Colombia. Even today, at the age of 35, he cannot imagine life without watching and playing soccer.
So when severe fatigue and chest pain led him to an emergency room in 2009 and later to a cardiologist who diagnosed dilated cardiomyopathy, Mr. Ahon was worried that his soccer-playing days might be numbered. In patients with dilated cardiomyopathy, the heart’s ability to pump blood is decreased because its main pumping chamber—the left ventricle—is enlarged, dilated and weak. With time, the heart muscle walls weaken and are unable to pump as strongly, leading to heart failure.
“I thought my life was going to change drastically,” he says. “I thought it would interfere because I like to exercise a lot.”
Tests determined he had only 50 percent heart function and was at increased risk of sudden cardiac death from ventricular fibrillation, a potentially lethal irregular heart rhythm that causes the heart to beat with rapid, erratic electrical impulses. This, in turn, can cause the heart’s pumping chambers to quiver rather than pump blood.
To guard against ventricular fibrillation, patients like Mr. Ahon typically receive an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) placed by insertion through a vein, known as a transvenous ICD. The device contains one or more electrical wires that are fed through the veins and into the heart. When the ICD senses an irregular heart rhythm, it sends an electrical shock to the heart to reset the normal rhythm.
However, his cardiologist thought he might benefit from a new investigational device that implants the ICD device under the skin, with no wires touching the heart. Northwestern Memorial is among 30 healthcare institutions nationally that are participating in a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clinical trial of the new device, called a subcutaneous (under the skin) cardioverter defibrillator (S-ICD). Mr. Ahon was referred to electrophysiologist Bradley P. Knight, MD, Northwestern’s principal investigator for S-ICD, director of Cardiac Electrophysiology at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute and professor of Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Feinberg School of Medicine.
“Mr. Ahon was a good candidate because he is young and will have the device for many years,” Dr. Knight says. “The potential advantages are no wires touching the heart and fewer inappropriate shocks. We can also retrieve data from the device to determine if the patient has had an irregular rhythm leading to a shock.”
With the device, Mr. Ahon has found that he can enjoy an active lifestyle, which includes his passion—playing soccer.
“I feel a lot more secure and I’m no longer afraid,” he says of living with the implanted investigational device. “I have been pleasantly surprised. The device hasn’t interfered with my life at all.”