July 2, 2001
MEDIA CONTACT: Karen Blum
– Cardiac surgeon Levi Watkins available for comment –
The ability of the U.S. Vice President’s heart to take a licking and keep on ticking is in part due to medical advances made 20 years ago by heart specialists at Johns Hopkins.
The first automatic implantable defibrillator (AID) was developed at Hopkins and Sinai Hospital of Baltimore by the late Michel Mirowski, M.D., who had a dual appointment at the two hospitals. In February 1980, cardiac surgeon Levi Watkins, M.D., performed the first implantation of the device in a California woman.
That AID served as a forerunner to the devices in use today. Mirowski and Watkins traveled the globe, educating colleagues about the device and demonstrating how to implant it. The device also spurred the growth of electrophysiology, the cardiac subspecialty dedicated to the study and treatment of abnormal heart rhythms. To date, Hopkins physicians have performed several thousand implantations of the devices. Watkins estimates he has done about 1,000 himself.
Dick Cheney was fitted Saturday with a cardioverter defibrillator, designed to prevent sudden cardiac death. Comparing the original device to the one Cheney received, Watkins said, "is like the difference between the Model T Ford and a Lexus."
"(The new devices) should really be called computerized arrhythmic centers," he said. "They can pace, they can shock, they can put the heart in overdrive and perform numerous other functions. They’re much more effective, they’re smaller, and we can now implant them noninvasively."