John Fletcher

pacemakerInHandAt the bottom of John Fletcher’s heart there is more than gratitude and sincerity – there is the world’s smallest pacemaker.

Originally from Melbourne, Fla., John served in the Navy and went on to work for the space program at NASA. In the 1960s, John made a move to Florida’s Capital City and started a new career in finance and banking.

“I worked with Ford Motor Credit in North Florida and South Georgia,” John explained. “The automobiles were the engine of Ford and kept the company running, but the finance part of it was really the heart – helping people to purchase this car they really wanted.”

John always felt his best when helping people, both professionally and through his hobbies, like playing in a six-piece New Orleans style jazz band for patients and families at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital over the years.

In regards to his health, “I felt good; I didn’t have any symptoms that I could tell,” John said. “But, a routine EKG showed that I had an irregular heart rhythm, so I was referred to Dr. Khairallah for specialized care.”

Farhat Khairallah, MD, FACC, FHRS, electrophysiologist at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH), diagnosed John with atrial fibrillation, or afib, which is an irregular heart rhythm caused by irregular beating of the upper chambers of the heart. Afib impacts more than three million adults across the country.

Later on, when John required open-heart surgery in 2015, Dr. Khairallah also placed an implantable loop recorder, a heart-recording device, to track John’s heart activity.

“While examining John, I noticed his heart rate was a little slow,” Dr. Khairallah explained. “It did not require a pacemaker, but I wanted to monitor his heart rhythm regularly, which the loop recorder allowed us to do.”

Two years later, John’s heart rate dropped dangerously low, to 30 beats per minute, while he slept. He was diagnosed with bradycardia,  a slow heart rate. Dr. Khairallah recommended a new pacemaker known as the Micra to help speed-up John’s heart.

This pacemaker is the first of its kind. Unlike traditional pacemakers, which are placed in a “pocket” below the collarbone with wires, or leads, that run to the heart, the Micra is about the size of a large vitamin and is implanted directly in the lower chamber of the heart through a catheter procedure.

Only 75 physicians in the United States were initially trained to implant this pacemaker and four of those physicians practice at TMH.

“Having all of our electrophysiologists at TMH selected to train on the Micra technology is a testament to the level of care and experience we provide our patients,” explained Dr. Khairallah. “We have worked hard to recruit the best possible physicians to our team with the commitment that we would continue to offer the latest treatment options for our patients and we are holding true to our word.”  

John became the first patient at TMH to receive the Micra pacemaker. “Everyone who took care of me was so nice and my recovery was pretty easy too – less than a week,” John shared. “A month after my pacemaker was implanted,  I saw Dr. Khairallah to have it uniquely adjusted to my heart’s specific needs – the process only took five minutes.”

At 79 years old, John has a new lease on life.  “I have more energy,” he added. “It is exciting to know I have this amazing new technology working to support my heart.” Now, John has peace of mind that his heart is doing well, so he can focus more on saltwater fishing, golf and his family, especially his fiancé, daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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