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Lake Geneva man sees big improvement with tiny pacemaker


It is the size of a vitamin capsule, has a 12-year battery life and is attached to Ben Odden’s heart.

The tiny device is a Micra leadless pacemaker, which claims to be the world’s smallest pacemaker.

Odden, a 22-year-old Lake Geneva man, was the second of three patients to get the device implanted at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it in 2016, said Trish Reed, a Mercyhealth spokeswoman.

Odden’s health problems started last November, when he began passing out at random times. The episodes initially occurred sporadically, but they became much more frequent about four months ago, increasing to once or twice a week.

Eventually, Odden started having seizures.

His doctor referred him to Imdad Ahmed, cardiologist and electrophysiologist at Mercyhealth.

For a few weeks, Odden wore a heart monitor. It showed his heart rate dipped significantly before he passed out, sometimes stopping completely for a few seconds, Ahmed said.

Ahmed tries to find out what’s causing a patient’s slow heart rate before he recommends a pacemaker. Sometimes, a slow heart rate can be reversed with lifestyle changes, such as exercising more or quitting smoking.

But Ahmed could not find a cause for Odden’s falling heart rate, despite several weeks of heart monitor results. A pacemaker was the only option.

Odden said he hesitated about getting a pacemaker because it was a “serious, long-term thing.”

But Ahmed was concerned that Odden’s condition was ruining his quality of life. He told Odden to stop driving, playing sports and doing other physical activity.

“That was taking life away from him,” the doctor said. “We had a very complex decision because he’s young, so we don’t want to just jump into the procedure.”

Leadless pacemakers are not for everyone, Ahmed said, because they only help people who need pacing in one of the heart’s four chambers. Traditional pacemakers can pace multiple chambers at once.

The small pacemaker is best for those who are very young or very old because it allows people to remain active and reduces the risk of infection, Ahmed said.

Inserting a traditional pacemaker into the body requires making an incision in the chest, which leaves a scar, Ahmed said. With any incision comes a risk for infection.

The leadless pacemaker requires a less-invasive procedure: It is inserted directly into the heart through a vein in the patient’s groin, Ahmed said. Because it is 93 percent smaller than a traditional pacemaker, it reduces the risk of complications by 65 percent, he said.

The tiny pacemaker’s deceivingly simple construction has other advantages.

A traditional pacemaker connects to the heart with wires inside the patient’s chest, Ahmed said, and the risk of pulling or damaging the wires is always there. Patients have to wait at least one month before trying to lift their arms above their shoulders, swing their arms or lift anything heavier than 10 pounds.

Those restrictions don’t exist with the leadless pacemaker, which can be implanted during an outpatient visit.

It also has a less than 1 percent risk of heart damage, Ahmed said.

Odden had the leadless pacemaker inserted Sept. 4 and has not passed out or experienced a seizure since, he said.

Now and then, he feels one big heartbeat in his chest, which he believes is the pacemaker doing its job.

Odden said he still wants to figure out what is causing his slow heart rate. He recently started seeing an infectious disease doctor, hoping to get more answers.

For now, though, he is glad life is almost back to normal. He has a job doing maintenance at a golf course, and he wants to get back to work.

Bryan Wegter 

Parkview libero Madi Vine celebrates with teammates after the Vikings scored a point against Deerfield during a Trailways South Division volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, at Parkview High.

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Rock County considers sweeping facility upgrades


Several aging Rock County buildings could get sweeping upgrades costing tens of millions of dollars if the county board follows recommendations in a new facilities master plan.

Based on suggestions in the plan, the upgrades could range from remodeling the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds to building a new health care center and sheriff’s office complex.

Representatives from Venture Architects, a Milwaukee firm, on Tuesday presented the plan to the Rock County Board’s General Services Committee as a five- to 10-year facilities recommendation.

The board commissioned the $77,500 plan last year to address functional inefficiencies and space inadequacies in several county buildings.

Venture representatives suggested the county’s most pressing concerns are the health care center and sheriff’s office complex, which includes the Rock County Jail. They said those facilities have inefficient layouts and lack adequate amenities and space.

The 46-year-old health care center uses space particularly poorly, according to the plan. Representatives suggested constructing a new health facility in a more central location—such as downtown Janesville—to better serve clients.

New building options could cost $21.2 million to $32.2 million, according to Venture’s initial budget review. The higher price tag would apply if the county consolidates several human services buildings into one facility.

Such a plan could combine the health care center, job center, Janesville public health building and county counseling center on Franklin Street in Janesville in a 95,000-square-foot building costing an estimated $32.2 million.

A new or remodeled sheriff’s office could cost $27.6 million to $29 million, according to the budget review, while a new jail could cost upward of $52 million.

Other facility needs identified in the plan include a medical examiner’s department and IT department.

At the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds, the plan recommends upgrades ranging from $1.7 million to $5.5 million. Suggestions include a general site reconfiguration with a new Craig Center, additional pavilions and removal of the grandstand.

The county board would have to approve any facility upgrades. Venture representatives will present the master plan to the board Sept. 27, but no action will be taken at that meeting.

Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said the board will discuss the plan and whittle down its suggestions, but he’s unsure when that will happen.

“There’s a lot of information to absorb,” he said. “I think it’s going to take the county board and general services (committee) a little bit of time go through it.”

Smith said the county does not have a target price tag for the upgrades. How much the board ultimately spends will be determined by members’ comfort level and how much debt they’re willing to accrue.

But Smith noted the county has the capacity to borrow. It is still paying for the Rock Haven Nursing Home, which was built in 2013, and has typically just been borrowing for road projects.

“This is the first public presentation of the entire plan,” he said. “It’s going to be a process.”