Songs from the Heart

tracy-m-and-bill-roppPatient Thanks Heart Center Nurse with Singing Telegram

Every year, the Lighthouse Chorus in Niles sends barbershop quartets to deliver “singing valentines” to lucky recipients. Bill Ropp, a longtime chorus member, had sent one such musical gift to his wife, Brenda, in the past, but this year, he decided to brighten the day of someone else who made a difference in his life – Tracy McKay, RN, of the Heart Center at Lakeland Hospital, Niles.

“I’ve been a patient of Tracy’s for about seven years with my pacemaker,” said Bill, a Berrien Springs resident. “She not only takes care of my pacemaker, she also takes care of me.”

A Lakeland nurse for 20 years, Tracy has special relationships with all of her patients. She first meets them after they initially receive their pacemakers, and they continue to see her every three months. At each appointment, Tracy checks her patients for arrhythmias or any other potential issues, and she will follow up with her patients’ cardiologists when needed.

“I like to say I have 200 grandparents,” Tracy said. “I get very close to them, and a lot of my patients call me with questions before they call their doctors.”

Initially, the quartet looked for Tracy at Lakeland Hospital, Niles. Although Tracy wasn’t at work that day, the group performed a few songs in the hospital lobby to the delight of staff members and visitors. The quartet then moved on to Tracy’s home in Edwardsburg, where they surprised her with a rose, chocolates, and a card signed “from your grateful patient,” before entertaining her with love songs.

“I cried, and it really made my weekend,” Tracy said.

“The quartet was so grateful that Tracy loved it,” Bill said. “I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.”

XIt was 15 years ago when Bill first received his pacemaker. He had always had a relatively slow heartbeat, but one evening, his heartbeat dropped down to 32 beats per minute. Bill fainted and Brenda rushed him to the Emergency Department in Niles, where he found out that he would need a pacemaker.

Today, in addition to quarterly visits with Tracy, Bill regularly sees his cardiologist, Ishwara Bhat, MD. Bill says he doesn’t even notice he has the pacemaker, but he does say that it gives him added peace of mind.

Ask a Cardiologist 

Frequently Asked Questions About Pacemakers

What exactly is a pacemaker?
A permanent pacemaker, a small device that is implanted under the skin (most often in the shoulder area just under the collarbone), sends electrical signals to start or regulate a slow heartbeat. A permanent pacemaker may be used to make the heart beat if the heart’s natural pacemaker (the SA node) is not functioning properly and has developed 
an abnormally slow heart rate or rhythm, or if the 
electrical pathways are blocked.
Jerome Kuhnlein, MD 

Do pacemakers need to be adjusted or replaced?
Some devices may need to be adjusted if a person’s 
medical condition or lifestyle changes. Most adjustments are done non-invasively using a device called a programmer. This is a specialized computer that communicates with the pacemaker using magnetic signals via a “wand” or loop placed over the device. Your doctor will instruct you about the schedule of follow-up visits you should keep based on your condition and type of device. Most devices will last at least 5 to 10 years or more, depending on use, after which the battery or pulse generator will need to be replaced. Replacing a pacemaker generator is usually done on an outpatient basis with a same-day discharge.
Douglas Huggett, DO 

Is traveling or using a cell phone safe if you have a pacemaker?
Yes, you can travel by air with your device and drive a car if cleared by your doctor. Airport security detectors are generally safe, but let airport security staff know you have a pacemaker and discuss the appropriate screening procedure. You should be sure to always have your identification card with you wherever you go.
The FDA says that cell phones available in the United States (less than 3 watts) generally do not appear to interfere with or damage pacemakers. However, it’s best to avoid keeping your cell phone in your breast pocket on the side of the device. It’s probably better to use the phone on the opposite ear, as well.
Abhimanyu Beri, MD

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