Former Polish President gets pacemaker

February 29, 2008 11:16:33 AM PST
Surgeons successfully implanted a pacemaker in former Polish President Lech Walesa on Friday and hope it will keep the Nobel laureate from needing a heart transplant.The device was implanted during a two-hour hour procedure at Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center. Doctors said the 64-year-old Walesa was doing well.

"We are very happy with the results," said Dr. Miguel Valderrabano, the lead doctor on the procedure.

Walesa came to Houston for tests this week and had a stent implanted into a clogged coronary artery Wednesday. Among his symptoms were chest pain, fatigue and shortness of breath. He previously had a heart attack and suffers from sleep apnea and diabetes.

The device implanted Friday - about the size of a stopwatch - is a biventricular pacemaker-defibrillator. The pacemaker synchronizes the contractions of his heart, while the defibrillator will be on standby to shock the heart if needed, hospital spokeswoman Erin Fairchild said. Biventricular means it works on both sides of the heart, she said.

Valderrabano characterized the procedure as routine, saying the hospital does about five per week on average.

It is hoped that the pacemaker, along with a stent and the treatment Walesa received for his sleep apnea and diabetes, will prevent the need for a heart transplant, said Dr. Guillermo Torre, his cardiologist.

Doctors should have a better idea in the next three months whether a heart transplant will be needed.

"If his heart still shows no recovery, then transplantation will be the best strategy," Torre said. "But usually if you improve these things the patients typically get better."

Walesa was expected to remain hospitalized through the weekend and possibly early next week. He will return a few days after his release to see if the incision is healing properly, Torre said.

Walesa, a former Gdansk shipyard electrician, led a workers' strike in 1980 that grew into the nationwide Solidarity freedom movement against Poland's communist authorities. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. In 1989, Solidarity toppled Poland's communist regime and Walesa went on to serve as Poland's first democratically elected president, from 1990-95.

Before the procedure, Walesa was in good spirits and looked forward to having it done, said Zbigniew Wojciechowski, the anesthesiologist and translator.

"He wants to get it done because he wants to go back on his way to doing what he has been doing: meetings, lectures and more active work," said Wojciechowski. "He wants to get on with his normal life."

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