Ah, the many miracles of modern medicine. Many of us, me included, don’t realize the advances that medicine has taken over the past few decades, unless of course, we need such procedures.
Another procedure that has remarkably changed the lifestyles of many people is the invention of an implantable pacemaker which relieves the symptoms of a slow, irregular heart rhythm.
But before the internal device was developed an external pace maker, the size of several decks of cards was invented by engineer, inventor and developer, Earl Bakken in 1957. Bakken today lives on the Big Island and has become a contributing supporter to the North Hawaii Community Hospital.
Pace Makers have changed and saved the lives of thousands of people throughout the world and has given them the gift of returning to a normal life.
For Virginia Alderson the choice of getting a Pace Maker was made for her in 2006, at the age of 54. It was during a routine doctor’s visit that Alderson was placed into the emergency procedure.
“I had the symptoms of shortness of breath, weakness, and a feeling of pressure in my chest,” she said. “So I went in to see my doctor and an EKG was ordered.”
The EKG confirmed Alderson’s doctors concern, that she had what is called an intermittent “heart block.”
“Two chambers of my heart did not harmonize with the upper beating and the lower forgetting its job,” Alderson said.
Her doctor placed her directly into an ambulance and sent her to the emergency room at Hilo Hospital where a pacemaker implant was done the next morning.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to consider or decide on getting a pacemaker,” she said. “But it also meant that I didn’t have the time to think or worry about it either.”
If Alderson did not get the pacemaker her heart could have failed to pump enough blood to her brain which may have caused her to possibly pass out or even have a stroke.
“I feel very fortunate that the technology exists today and that they have created a device that keeps my heart beating as it should,” Alderson said.
Alderson had the choice of being “put under” or to have a local anesthetic and chose to stay awake during the procedure.
“It was explained to me that my recovery could be quicker with a local,” she said. “It felt a little creepy, being aware of the procedure, especially when they thread the leads into the heart chambers (little wires that shock the heart chamber to make it beat).”
The surgery took nearly three hours and Alderson was in the hospital for three days.
“Because of my symptoms I felt better after the surgery than I did going in,” she said. “Recovery was pretty rapid.
Alderson grew up in California in the small town of Felton which is located in the sand hills of the Santa Cruz Mountains near Monterey Bay.
“At a young age us kids had the run of the neighborhood, with lots of other kids to play with,” she recalled. “It was a safe place where the adults looked out for us. All summer long we played softball games in a vacant lot.”
Although not particularly athletic Alderson was outdoors most of the time, weather permitting.
“My backyard had some fun stuff built by my German father,” she said. “We had a jungle gym, a knotted rope swing and a tree house in a giant oak tree. We even had a crude version of a zip line that all the kids in the neighborhood loved.”
Today, at age 57, Alderson continues to stay active and there aren’t any activities that she had to forgo due to having the pacemaker implanted.
“Sometimes, when exerting myself during some particularly extreme effort, I do feel my heart really pounding,” she said. “But I think it would do that anyway even without the pacemaker.”
Alderson will walk or use her elliptical exerciser almost daily and she will work outdoors doing a variety of heavy yard work several days per week.
For diet she continues to eat natural foods, sprouts and whole grains which she brings with her from her youth, during the 1960’s.
“I was influenced by a background of exposure to mostly health foods,” she said. “It’s pretty easy here, in Hawaii, to eat mostly fresh, local foods, due to the long growing season and the variety of foods available.”
Alderson will also limit her intake of meat and alcohol and she has never smoked.
“I would recommend to any person considering a pacemaker implant to have a very frank discussion with their doctor. A person’s medical condition has to be thoroughly evaluated and options discussed. Since pacemakers are so common now and relatively low-risk the decision to get one has no appreciable down-side,” Alderson said.
Despite her healthy lifestyle she and her husband Richard, continue to strive to improve on their diet, while learning new ways to reduce stress and increase daily exercise.
“My basic philosophy is to live well, with honor, honesty and integrity,” she said. “Love and appreciate life, people, the land, while contributing something positive to my community.”