Sutter doctors in Santa Rosa begin use of implant offering early warning system for heart patients

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Local doctors at Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation Health have begun using a new implantable diagnostic system for some of their cardiac patients, in hopes of reducing costly hospital admissions for heart failure, one of the major causes of death in the United States.

The first and only FDA-approved heart failure-monitoring system, CardioMEMS features a battery-free implant sensor that detects pulmonary blood irregularities and sends that data through wireless communications to Sutter heart specialists.

The diagnostic system allows cardiologists to fine-tune a heart failure patient’s medication to regulate such things as heart rate and blood pressure. The process is known as titration, and for patients with weak hearts changes in titration can be “a fine line” between a patient feeling good or feeling dizzy or nauseated, said Dr. Daniel Brenner, an interventional cardiologist with Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, an affiliate of Sutter Health.

The ultimate goal is to reduce heart complications that land a patient in the hospital, he said.

“Every time a heart failure patient gets admitted for heart failure their chance of dying increases,” Brenner said, adding that each episode that requires hospitalization results in “systemic stress on the body, and every time you do that, it’s detrimental to your body functions.”

Brenner said a weight scale is the usual diagnostic tool for many heart failure patients. A patient is expected to track significant changes in weight and report it to their doctors or heart nurse. Weight gain resulting from stress hormones is often an indicator that the heart is not working well, Brenner said.

The new CardioMEMS sensor is the size of a small paper clip and is inserted in a pulmonary artery near the heart. It goes to work when a patient is at rest, communicating through wireless technology with a pillow that contains an antenna. The pillow is connected to a monitor that sends the data over a secure network to Sutter doctors.

The monitor detects changes in pulmonary artery pressures, which precede weight gain by one to two weeks, Brenner said. The system is essentially an early warning system of possible heart failure, he said.

Ernest Strech, 83, of Windsor received the CardioMEMS implant on March 29. Strech, a retired salesman, has had a triple bypass, three blood vessel stents and is on his third defibrillator implant.

Strech said that after a bit of adjustment of his heart medication, his weight has stayed “exactly the same — 135.4 pounds.”

“It think it’s great,” Strech said, during a visit Tuesday with Dr. Brenner. “Anything to keep you out of the hospital and keep you breathing.”

The main symptoms of heart failure are shortness of breath, changes in weight, or swelling in the legs. The device allows cardiologists to identify changes in a patient’s clinical status before any of these symptoms develop, said Dr. Dr. Jared Herr, an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist at California Pacific Medical Center, a Sutter Health affiliate in San Francisco that provides advanced cardiac services for heart failure patients, such as heart transplants.

Heart specialists like Herr at CPMC are among those who will receive the data from patients with implants.

“Our role is to help take information that we gather from the device and help with medication adjustments,” Herr said.

“We add that level of expertise to the patient’s care.”

Herr said the monitoring system should reduce health care costs in the long run.

He said changes in recent years to Medicare rules have resulted in stiff penalties to hospitals whenever a heart failure patient is readmitted within 30 days.

Less than two weeks after getting his implant, Strech said he’s “back to the gym,” as part of a local cardiac rehabilitation program.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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