Implant shocks city man's heartbeat back to normal

October 20, 1997


Staff writer

Most people avoid electrical shocks at all cost, but Charles Brining welcomes them.

Brining, 58, of Hagerstown, experiences such rapid heartbeat in the upper chamber of his heart that it could lead to stroke or even death.

On Oct. 8 he became the first person in the mid-Atlantic region and the 27th in the country to get an implant that senses when the heart's upper chamber is out of rhythm and shocks it back to normal, said spokesman Ira Allen of the University of Maryland Medical Center.

"This is an experimental device," Allen said.

"I feel like a guinea pig, but I'm a willing guinea pig... I feel very fortunate to get this opportunity," Brining said.


The implant - about the size of a small deck of cards - is buried beneath the skin in Brining's upper left chest, Allen said. Lead wires are attached to the heart through a vein under his collarbone, he said.

Before he got the atrial defibrillation implant at the medical center, Brining said, when his heart "went out" he went to the hospital where doctors returned it to normal rhythm by administering a jolt to his chest.

"The shock the implant gives you isn't as bad as the ones they put on your chest," Brining said. "The paddles leave big marks on your chest, and you're sore for two days. Don't get me wrong - you still feel it, but it's not as bad as the paddles."

Atrial fibrillation can cause up to a 30 percent reduction in the pumping output of the heart, Allen said. Symptoms include shortness of breath, palpitations, lightheadedness and fatigue.

Although not life-threatening by itself, people with this problem are five times more likely to have strokes than those with normal heart rhythms, and of those who do, 70 percent die or suffer severe brain damage, Allen said. Drugs prevent such episodes in only about half the patients, he said.

Brining has always been active. He loves water sports, including water skiing. For 10 years, he has been riding his bike from his West Washington Street home to his job as a machine operator at Pangborn Corp.

Several years ago, Brining noticed that about once a month he would become easily fatigued when doing even light exercise.

"I don't smoke and we try to eat the right foods," Brining said. "My biggest vice is caffeine. Other than this thing with my heart, I'm healthy. I couldn't understand why I was getting so weak."

Brining eventually was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a condition that drugs didn't control. The attacks of rapid heartbeat became more frequent.

This summer, Brining ended up in the hospital when his heart wouldn't slow down. "They nailed me with these paddles three times," he said.

When Brining was referred to the medical center, he was ready to try anything.

Brining's implant, called Metrix System, records information on the heart from a computer chip. Brining said the implant can be activated to deliver a shock in three ways.

"When in automatic mode, it will give you a teeny shock as a warning, and then five minutes later you get the motherlode," he said.

In monitor mode, doctors activate the shock mechanism. In patient-activated mode, the wearer self-administers the shock, Brining said.

How does it feel? "It's like sticking your finger into a light socket," he said.

Brining's device is in monitor mode, which means he has to go to the medical center when his heart starts racing.

Brining said eventually he'll deliver the shock to himself with a remote control-type gadget, but doctors won't let him take control yet. They want to see him regularly to check heart rate data.

Brining said they want him to write reports about how his quality of life is affected by the implant, and they want him to stop worrying so much.

Brining said he has added incentive to be on his good behavior. "My wife Lee asked the doctor if she can have a remote control unit," he said.

"I'm going to get my own remote and use it on him when he acts up," Lee Brining said.

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