Cardiologists at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston are using new technology to improve the lives of their Veteran patients.  Robert Eikey, a Coast Guard Veteran from Spring, Texas, was recently the first patient in Texas to receive a new leadless pacemaker implant designed to regulate his heart.

After his procedure, he was discharged the next day and says he is already feeling like a million bucks. “I woke up from the surgery and I felt amazing,” he said. “I’m blown away by how great I feel already.”

Dr. Hamid Afshar and Coast Guard Veteran Robert Eikey

Eikey, 54, a wildlife biologist, is an avid hunter, fisherman and marksmanship competitor who prides himself on never slowing down. “If it swims, I fish for it; if it walks, I hunt for it,” he said. But for 30 years, he has been fighting a health issue that caused him to periodically experience dizziness resulting in several unexpected blackouts.

Over the years, Eikey sought help from medical professionals in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Louisiana but was unable to get a clear diagnosis of what might be causing the symptoms.

Passed out in hardware store

“I was diagnosed with everything from anxiety to dehydration, but nothing helped,” he said. “It was unnerving knowing that I could pass out at any time without warning.”

After moving to Texas at the beginning of the pandemic, he passed out in a hardware store and sought help from Dr. Hamid Afshar and the cardiology team at the Houston VA. After a thorough series of tests, he was diagnosed with a heart block, which, according to Afshar, occurs when the electrical signals from the top chambers of the heart don’t conduct properly to the bottom chambers.

These abnormal rhythms can cause difficulty breathing, dizziness, fainting or even sudden cardiac death in some instances.   Afshar and the cardiology team identified Eikey as a great candidate for a new recently FDA-approved Aveir VR leadless pacemaker.

Technology is retrievable and upgradeable

“We placed a leadless pacemaker into the right ventricle of Mr. Eikey’s heart in a minimally-invasive procedure that does not require incisions into the chest,” Afshar said. “As a young man, we wanted him to have the latest technology that is designed to be retrievable and upgradeable. We are thrilled with how well the procedure went and the results he is already experiencing.”

The Aveir pacemaker is smaller than a AAA battery and delivers electrical pulses as it detects a slower-than-normal heart rate. It also offers less complications for patients down the road and has an extra-long battery life.

“Our toolbox at the Houston VA is filled with the latest technology, top clinical experts and a strong commitment to finding the medical solution that is right for every Veteran as an individual,” said Dr. Glenn Levine, Houston VA chief of Cardiology and professor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “We are honored to be able to improve our Veterans’ quality of life while offering them the state-of-the-art health care they deserve.”

Grateful for “top notch care” at Houston VA

Eikey has hit the ground running in the few days since his procedure. He’s already doing chores around the house to help his wife. He says he has been very impressed with the facilities at the Houston VA and especially the medical center’s cardiology team.

“As soon as I met my cardiologists, I knew they were experienced professionals,” he said. “I’m very grateful for the top-notch care I have received at the Houston VA.”

By Maureen Dyman is the communications director at the Michael E. DeBakey VA

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Published on Jul. 5, 2022

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10 Comments

  1. wayne s rutherford July 8, 2022 at 11:29 pm

    I am 73 and a Vietnam Vet 68/69 Hue. I recd a Medtronic device about the size of a 22 caliber in my right ventricle. Last 12 years battery life. Went through the artery in leg. The Doctor says they tested on pigs. I guess that makes it ok. It certainly helped with AFIB.

  2. mary Duckworth July 8, 2022 at 8:41 am

    Having a pacemaker for 11 years has saved my life . KCVA has a great team and great after care. NO BULGE a small scar.

  3. Quentin Kinderman July 8, 2022 at 8:10 am

    This is a new technology. I think that anyone considering this should carefully consider the risks as well as the benefits. Likewise, there should be full disclosure and discussion by the health care providers.

  4. Ernest Correia July 8, 2022 at 5:38 am

    That is why I love the VA . Are they perfect ? Nor is anyone else but I would not trade them in for nothing . My deceased wife was in a famous Boston hospital for cancer several years later I was in the VA in Boston as a patient for several days. The care was beyond category. No BS

  5. Sam Cheyne July 8, 2022 at 2:16 am

    I forgot to mention…my Air Force retired son-in-law (couldn’t score high enough to get into the navy (ha ha) wants my pacemaker with a remote control!

  6. Sam Cheyne July 8, 2022 at 2:15 am

    This is perfect timing. I am getting a pacemaker on Monday. Great story.

  7. Gary Andrews July 7, 2022 at 6:46 pm

    I received a Medtronic leadless pacemaker in March of 2018 by the staff of Mountain Home VAMC. It was a life changing miracle, and I’m extremely grateful for the staff there.

  8. Donnie Wheat July 7, 2022 at 10:56 am

    I am in the same shape my Dr.’s Are thinking about a pacemaker for my low heart beat, I wish I could get the same care. I am 100% and still have to go to regular doctors for care. I am a 74 year old Viet Nam vet with all the signs of Agent Orange. Heart disease, Prostrate Cancer.
    I am still proud of my service in Viet Nam in 1968.
    Frm. Sgt. Donald A Wheat

    • Richard Paul July 7, 2022 at 9:28 pm

      Donnie. I share your sentiment as I too am a 1968 and 1972 Vietnam Veteran.

  9. Jaser Shareef July 7, 2022 at 10:36 am

    Lucky person , I have a pace maker and difibulator all in one inserted in my chest with leads inserted in my heart , done at private hospital here in Chicago land area , the feeling of having a device in your chest , bulging and sticking out is very annoying, I wish they would have a smaller device, flat or thin that would be more comfortable, good luck to you Eikey, and thanks to you va hospital team in Texas.

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