Pacemakers are usually no bigger than a pocket watch, and they can last anywhere from 5 to 15 years.(ISTOCKPHOTO/HEALTH)
Years ago, Odessa Rogers decided to start checking her heart rate at home to monitor her health as she aged. It normally hovered around 80 beats a minute. But on a spring morning in 1999, as she was heading out to a Bible study class, the rate dipped below 40.
"I already felt tired, so I knew I didn't have to check it twice," says Rogers, 80, of Detroit. "I told my husband that I better go to the doctor before I die."
At Henry Ford Hospital she was diagnosed with bradycardia, an abnormally slow heart rate. The condition causes symptoms such as dizziness, fainting, extreme tiredness, and shortness of breath.
A pacemaker manufactured by Medtronic was inserted into her chest, just below her collarbone. Pacemakers are small devices that send electrical signals to regulate the heartbeat. They are used when the heart isn't beating properly or if an electrical pathway is blocked.
Rogers, a retired nurse, was surprised by the size of the pacemaker—or more to the point, its lack of size.
"As a former nurse, I recalled them being so large and so cumbersome," she says, adding that her pacemaker, about the size of a quarter, "feels wonderful because I don't feel it."
It has been so unnoticeable that Rogers, a frequent-flier, has passed through several airport security gates without it being detected.
She credits the pacemaker with enabling her to continue to travel and volunteer for the AARP.
"Before I had the pacemaker, I would suddenly get tired and all my energy was sapped," she says. "I thought I was doing too many activities, but it really was due to my electrical system being out of whack."
Doctors told her the pacemaker would last five years—hers is going on nine. Once a month she has it examined by hospital staff via a telephone monitor.
"You don't stop living just because you have a pacemaker," she says. "I feel like the Energizer Bunny."