NC Retiree Helps Advance Heart Care With Pacemaker Clinical Trial
When William Massey retired to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, he immersed himself in the arts as a devoted volunteer, but the health care piece of retirement worried him a bit.
He'd lived in North Carolina's Research Triangle area most of his life and had access to premier medical facilities. However, medical care on the Outer Banks in his new hometown of Manteo, N.C., with a population of less than 2,000, was sparse. So, when his primary care physician noticed an irregular heartbeat and suggested follow-up care with a cardiologist, Mr. Massey wasn't sure where he'd turn.
"All this was new to me," says Massey, who was 73 at the time. "I had never had a heart issue."
Researching leads to Sentara
Massey immediately began investigating cardiologist options, thinking he may need to go back to the Research Triangle for care. His research led him to Matthew Summers, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Sentara Cardiology Specialists-Structural Heat Center. Massey was impressed with Dr. Summers' credentials - a graduate of Mayo Medical School with a residency at Duke University and fellowship with The Cleveland Clinic.
Dr. Summers confirmed the diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to complications, such as blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart conditions. He recommended valve replacement surgery to regulate his heart, known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR. Surgeons deliver the tiny valve with a catheter through a small incision in the thigh or the chest to place it in the aortic valve.
"I had great faith in Dr. Summers," Massey explains. "I went through the valve replacement in Norfolk and realized I didn't have to look further west for my healthcare."
Enrolling in a clinical trial
During follow-up care, Dr. Summers recommended a pacemaker to regulate Massey's heartbeat further. Pacemakers are implanted devices that monitor heart activity. They send electrical impulses through leads fed through an artery to the inside of the heart to stimulate a slow or irregular heartbeat until it returns to normal.
Massey made an appointment with Sentara cardiologist Erich Kiehl, MD, of Sentara Cardiology Specialists to get more information about pacemakers and learn about options. Massey was also impressed with Dr. Kiehl's background - medical school at Brown University, residency at the University of Virginia and a fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic.
Dr. Kiehl, who specializes in cardiac electrophysiology, asked if he would like to participate in a clinical trial testing a meticulously developed new lead, Ingevity + by Boston Scientific Corporation.
Just as he did to research his doctors, Massey dove in to learn more about the clinical trial.
"They gave me information to read and links to research it further online," Massey recalls. "They answered all my questions. They didn't just suggest it and say, 'Sign here.'"
In the end, bolstered by the personal care he received from the cardiologists and their research coordinator, Massey agreed to the clinical trial and scheduled the surgery in September 2020.
"Something like this can be very frightening," Massey says. "Except these doctors and their staff were phenomenal and empathetic, balanced with absolutely pure professionalism.
Tracking, fixing heart rhythm
The pacemaker generates reports that Massey's doctors can use to track his heart and determine how often the pacemaker was activated to control the rhythm.
The monitor sits in Massey's bedroom and records data. It also lets his doctors know if the pacemaker battery, which lasts several years, is running low.
Massey visits research coordinator Linette Klevan every year to check in and go over data. Massey was glad to play a role in the process.
"I have always believed, and my work has always driven that home. If I have an opportunity to help people, I will. It all comes back to you," Massey says.