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More Americans living with pacemakers, study says

Published On: Mar 19 2013 10:07:56 PM CDT   Updated On: Mar 19 2013 10:14:58 PM CDT

A new study by the American Heart Association shows more Americans are living with pacemakers than ever before.

The use of pacemakers has gone up 50 percent in the last decade, according to the study.

"My chances of even being here are so small that it has to be a miracle. That's all it can be, is God's miracle," said Les Johnson from Delavan.

His wife, Kitty, said that Les collapsed after a morning run last August.

"I heard this thud, I turned around and he was lying flat out on the brick walkway," Kitty Johnson said.

One the most common heart problems is an irregular heartbeat. Dr. Tom Teelin, a cardiologist with Mercy Health System who specializes in studying heart rhythms, said a pacemaker can be a good alternative to open heart surgery.

"Les was really doing everything a physician would want their patient to do -- dieting, he was exercising," said Teelin.

Les had quadruple bypass surgery in 1992, and Teelin said scar tissue may have caused Les' heart problem.

"Basically that scar became electrically unstable and his heart rate became so fast it couldn't support blood pressure and he passed out," Teelin said.

Les now wears a defibrillator.

"It's constantly watching the heart rhythm like a watch tower at an airport looking for any unstable heart rhythm, and should that happen it has the ability to then to treat it, and it does so by giving a shock to the heart or, in some cases, it can pace it out of the rhythm," Teelin said.

Although he doesn't remember what happened, Les and his wife said they are more confident on their morning runs.

"If that same incident should happen again, I'll get kicked like a mule and I'll be back at it again," Les said.

He and Kitty said this experience has strengthened their faith.

Teelin said that in the last month they've had about eight patients whose lives benefited from getting a pacemaker or defibrillator. With the device and medication, he said most people will be able to lead relatively normal lives.

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