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Published on August 15, 2017

Electronic Device Channels Body’s Natural Rhythms in Battle Against Heart Failure

Paul Kelley BarostimAn Eden man was the first in the state to receive the device.

Paul Kelley considers himself a medical miracle. And why not? The 78-year-old has survived three heart attacks and numerous strokes. Today, the Eden resident is impressed by how much better he feels after he became the first person in North Carolina to use a novel approach to treating heart failure.

Paul Kelley (Right)

Kelley had his first heart attack at 34. It has led to heart failure—a major health problem impacting 5.8 million Americans. Like many, Kelley had trouble walking to his mailbox without running out of breath. He would have two or three spells a day where he became short of breath just sitting. “It was very depressing,” Kelley says. “You wonder when you go to bed at night if you are going to wake up in the morning.” But in early June, Kelley was asked if he wanted to join a clinical trial at Cone Health Heart and Vascular Center.

It is called the BeAT-HF trial, and it uses Baroreflex Activation Therapy®. The idea is to see if the patient’s own body can be used to lessen the impact of heart failure. Kelley’s involvement in the trial began with a comprehensive screening from a medical team that included a cardiologist; a vascular surgeon; and an ear, nose and throat specialist. A vascular surgeon placed a tiny electrode onto Kelley’s carotid artery—the big artery in the neck that supplies blood to the brain. Then a cardiologist attached a wire from the electrode to an egg-sized pulse generator placed under the skin in Kelley’s chest. It looks much like the pacemaker Kelley has on the other side of his chest. “I’m like a stereo,” he chuckles.

When the generator sends a pulse to the carotid artery, the body responds in surprising ways. “A signal goes to the brain and the brain tells the body’s circulatory system to sort of relax,” says Cone Health Medical Group cardiologist James Allred, MD. “The blood pressure drops, the heart slows and the kidneys even work better.” The blood flows easier in the body. “The impact of this on the patient is amazing,” Allred says.

For the man who ran out of breath walking to his mailbox it has been. A month after the device was put in, Kelley hopped on the treadmill. “I walked a mile and a half in 45 minutes and was not the least bit winded. My energy level is awesome.”

The LeBauer-Brodie Center for Cardiovascular Research at Cone Health is one of about 50 sites in the U.S. involved in the BeAT-HF trial. The trial should tell researchers if BAROSTIM THERAPY™ improves the quality of life and even extends life for people with heart failure. “It is gratifying that people in this area can get access to these types of clinical trials right in their own communities,” says Allred.

Kelley believes he finally has the energy to do something few guys admit enjoying—shopping with his wife. “It’s prime time together,” Kelley says. Divine times indeed.

Patient Stories