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The Warsaw Voice » Society » March 12, 2008
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Wałęsa Given Pacemaker
March 12, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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Former Solidarity trade union leader and ex-president Lech Wałęsa had a pacemaker fitted Feb. 29 at an American cardiac center, but it will take several months before it is clear whether the procedure has resolved his heart problems.

Wałęsa, who was Polish president 1990-1995, was discharged from the Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center in Houston March 5.

"My health has improved considerably. It has been a long time since I have felt this good," he said in a statement. "I am happy that I do not need a heart transplant at this time." Wałęsa also told the Polish media he was gradually getting accustomed to the pacemaker.

Doctors advised Wałęsa to lead an active lifestyle and carry out special exercises. From Houston, Wałęsa traveled to Mexico where he was to take part in an international youth conference. "I am going to work harder than ever to help people across the world," he said.

In a procedure that lasted nearly two hours, doctors at the American cardiac center implanted a small device called biventricular pacemaker-defibrillator in Wałęsa's chest. The device has three wires that are positioned in the heart to help regulate the heartbeat. The device paces the heart and synchronizes its contractions. It also prevents the heart from beating too fast, something that may cause death in patients such as Wałęsa.

Miguel Valderrabano, the doctor who implanted the pacemaker, said the duration of the procedure had been relatively short. Two days earlier, during tests, doctors detected a blockage in one of the arteries supplying blood to Wałęsa's heart and implanted a special tube, called a stent, to open up the narrowed artery. The procedure, which lasted three hours, was performed under general anesthetic. There was no need to open the patient's chest and the problem area was accessed through a vein in the groin. Polish anesthesiologist Zbigniew Wojciechowski assisted in the two procedures.

Wałęsa has previously twice undergone cardiac procedures-in Milan, Italy, and his native city of Gdańsk, the cradle of the Solidarity movement in northern Poland. However, the media reported last fall that Wałęsa might need a heart transplant.

Asked whether Wałęsa's would still need a transplant after having a pacemaker fitted, Valderrabano said this might prove necessary if his heart did not improve, but added that it should be considered a last resort. Specialists hope to restore Wałęsa's heart to normal functioning, relieving him of such symptoms as chest pain, fatigue and shortness of breath.

The Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center is a renowned institute founded by famous cardiac surgeon Prof. Michael DeBakey, who pioneered many forms of treatment including bypass surgery. In 1996, DeBakey, aged 88 at the time, led a team of surgeons who performed complex life-saving surgery on Boris Yeltsin, then president of Russia. DeBakey, who will turn 100 in September this year, still takes an active part in the work of his center.

In Poland, the first pacemaker was implanted in a patient in 1963. At least 100,000 people are living in Poland with pacemakers of various kinds. Around 9,500 pacemaker implantation or replacement procedures are performed in this country a year.
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