Implanted cardiac defibrillators removed from American patients due to infection or upgrade are saving lives in India thanks to a U.S. doctor with a big heart.

Rather than discarding the pricey devices when they are removed from the patient's chest, Dr. Behzad Pavri, a Philadelphia-based cardiologist, re-sterilizes them and ships them to India, where they are implanted in indigent patients who could not afford the treatment on their own.

"These are patients who otherwise would have no chance of getting such a device," said Pavri, who presented research on the safety of reusing implanted defibrillators at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association here.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillators, or ICDs, deliver a jolt of electricity to correct life-threatening heart rhythms and cost upwards of $35,000 each.

"I have stacks and stacks of letters from patients thanking me for basically giving them our trash," Pavri said in an interview at the meeting.

More On This...

About 250,000 to 300,000 ICDs are implanted each year in patients in the United States, Pavri said.

The battery-powered pulse generators, which are the size of a stop-watch, typically remain in patients for five to eight years but are sometimes removed before the end of their life cycle when a patient develops an infection or needs an upgraded model due to a change in health condition.
Medtronic Inc, Boston Scientific Corp and St Jude Medical are the leading manufacturers of ICDs.

Pavri, who has donated hundreds of ICDs to patients in his native India over the past 15 years, said he sends only devices that have at least three years of remaining battery life.

The devices come from his own patients and those of colleagues who have learned of his project over the years. He has never had a complaint from a recipient, Pavri said, and the patients who donate their used ICDs are happy to provide them.

"I had one patient who told me, 'I was planning to use this as a paperweight, but I would much rather it be in somebody,' " he said.