Former coach saved by world’s smallest pacemaker

Cardiologists at OLOL now using world's smallest pacemaker to save lives

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Cardiologists at Our Lady of the Lake (OLOL) are now implanting the world’s smallest pacemaker in some patients with atrial fibrillation.

The first heart patient in Baton Rouge to receive the wireless Micra implant was Robert Grace Sr., a former coach at Sunshine and East Iberville high schools. He coached football, baseball, and most notably, basketball, for more than three decades.

Then and Now: Coach Robert Grace, 1985 (from WAFB archives) and 2019
Then and Now: Coach Robert Grace, 1985 (from WAFB archives) and 2019

COACH ROBERT GRACE

  • Sunshine High School: 1968 to 1989
  • East Iberville High School: 1989 to 2001

“With him coaching, we stayed on the go," said Ira Grace, his wife of 43 years. "We went to every football, basketball game. After his condition started deteriorating, then we had to kind of slow our roll.”

Sunshine yearbook photos courtesy East Iberville Library
Sunshine yearbook photos courtesy East Iberville Library
Sunshine yearbook photos courtesy East Iberville Library
Sunshine yearbook photos courtesy East Iberville Library

These days, what keeps Coach Grace’s heart beating isn’t just the love of his life or his the love of the game, it’s the world’s smallest pacemaker.

“It’s called the Micra. It was developed to sort of reduce the risk with pacemakers and reduce complications overtime,” said Dr. Andrew Smith, cardiologist, OLOL Louisiana Cardiologist Associates.

Micra is smaller than a quarter. Upon closer inspection, it looks like a fishing lure. The hooks implant into the wall of the heart. It communicates through Bluetooth so the cardiologist can set the pulse.

Coach Grace suffered multiple strokes, which left his body less mobile. A traditional pacemaker places the leads in the shoulder. Micra doesn’t require those same leads, or cardiac wires, to deliver the pacing therapy. Setting the pulse using wireless technology is just one of the many perks making it the perfect pacer for Coach Grace.

“He is a gentleman who had had previous strokes. He has this irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, but his biggest pressing issue at the time was that his heart rate was very slow," explained Dr. Smith.

“His heart rate would be in the 30s, 38 or 39. He would feel weak all of the time," said Ira. “I didn’t like seeing him the way he was.”

“I didn’t have much energy. I wasn’t as mobile as I used to be,” said Coach Grace.

“A little micro device like this would allow him to do whatever he wants to do with his arms, but then provide that pacing, that good heart rate that he needed to feel good," said Dr. Smith.

Since the procedure last summer, Coach Grace’s heart rate stays in the 60s or above. His wife says he has more energy and a better appetite.

The Micra is expected to last 10 to 12 years for patients like Coach Grace.

“It was unbelievable how something that small can work and do so much good," said Coach Grace.

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