Every morning when Sandra McCormack, 71, of Wauwatosa, wakes up, she sends a reading of the pressures in her pulmonary artery to the advanced heart failure nurses at Froedtert Hospital. The nurses remotely monitor pressure changes in her pulmonary artery, which could be an early indicator of worsening heart failure. By identifying trends in Sandra’s pressure readings, the nurses can help manage her heart failure and prevent Sandra from being hospitalized.
“If there is a problem, a nurse will call me,” Sandra said. “Sometimes they tell me to adjust my medication or my water intake. I’m so grateful for them.”
Pulmonary Artery Pressure Monitoring With a CardioMEMS Device
The pressures in Sandra’s pulmonary artery are recorded by a tiny, wireless sensor that is about the size of a paperclip, called a CardioMEMS. The sensor is implanted inside the pulmonary artery, and when Sandra lies down on a “smart pillow,” it communicates with the sensor and transmits the data to the nurses. The technology is called the CardioMEMS Heart Failure System, or HF system.
“Pressure changes detected by a CardioMEMS precede a heart failure event by an average of two to three weeks,” said Mitchell Saltzberg, MD, advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist with the Froedtert & MCW Comprehensive Heart Failure and Transplant Program. “We have tremendous predictive utility for this device. We can know ahead of time when a person is going to get sick, before they feel any symptoms, and we can adjust their therapy.”
CardioMEMS Reduces Heart Failure Hospitalizations and Improves Quality of Life
The CardioMEMS HF System is FDA-approved for use in patients who have been hospitalized once due to heart failure.
“A single hospital admission in a year triples a person's risk of dying of heart failure,” Dr. Saltzberg said.
Repeat hospital admissions for heart failure carry an even higher risk of mortality. But multiple studies have shown the risk of readmission goes down significantly when a person is implanted with a CardioMEMS. The most recent study, published in 2020 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, showed a 57% decrease in heart failure hospitalizations in the year post-implant compared to the year pre-implant. Within the Froedtert & MCW Comprehensive Heart Failure and Transplant Program, the readmission rate for patients who have been implanted with a CardioMEMS decreased by 75%.
“This is a proactive strategy for heart failure management,” Dr. Saltzberg said. “By using this remote-monitoring technology, we can get ahead of it. People will not get symptomatic because we intervene before that happens.”
Before Sandra had a CardioMEMS, she had been admitted to the hospital three times over the course of eight weeks. She was implanted with the device in September 2020, and she has not been readmitted since.
“My quality of life is better,” Sandra said. “I’m so happy this was an option for me.”
How the CardioMEMS Implant Procedure Works
Implanting a CardioMEMS is a quick, minimally invasive outpatient procedure. The interventional cardiologist will insert the sensor using a catheter threaded through a vein in the neck (jugular vein) or vein in the groin (femoral vein) and guide it into position in the pulmonary artery using X-ray imaging.
Once the sensor is deployed, it is calibrated using the pressures of a nearby vessel. Patients are sent home with a portable unit and “smart pillow” to transmit their pressure readings to their care team. The sensor does not have a battery or replaceable parts. It is intended to last the lifetime of the patient.
The video below from Abbott Laboratories, the device manufacturer, shows how the device is implanted.
Sandra recovered well from the procedure. She has since made it part of her routine to transmit her pulmonary artery pressures daily. Now, she is feeling positive and healthy enough to get back to the activities she enjoyed before her heart failure diagnosis.
“I really do feel supported by the nurses and the physicians at Froedtert Hospital with my CardioMEMS,” Sandra said. “I have a whole team behind me, and I’m slowly getting back to my gardening, walks in the neighborhood and hopefully even a little folk dancing!”
The Froedtert & MCW heart failure team is a leader in CardioMEMS implants. According to Abbott Laboratories, the Froedtert & MCW Comprehensive Heart Failure and Transplant Program ranks in the top 15 in the Midwest for total number of procedures. More than 100 CardioMEMS have been implanted at Froedtert Hospital. Dr. Saltzberg also has unique experience with the CardioMEMS HF System; his experience with it dates back to the original release of the device in 2014.
The CardioMEMS HF System may be covered by health insurance or Medicare. Talk to your insurance provider to learn more about your coverage options.
Learn more about CardioMEMS and heart failure management options.
Photo and video courtesy of Abbott