Commentary: My life as a female with a pacemaker

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Once you have a pacemaker, the odds are great that you will always need one. The odds are greater still that, if you're a woman, you will have specific concerns that perhaps only other women help you with.

Living with a pacemaker cannot be learned from reading a brochure. For women, there are questions one might be a bit shy to raise, such as:

  • How do I arrange the bra strap so that it doesn't rub against my incision?
  • What sort of swimsuit works best at hiding the scar?
  • How far do I need to be from an arc welder, because that is my husband's hobby and I want to be able to help him as needed?

Regarding welding, a Google search says to "maintain a two-foot distance between the welding arc and heart device. Keep the welding cables close together and as far away as possible from your heart device." That helps, but it also helps to have other like-minded people with whom to discuss these matters.

I have been fortunate to have the same pacemaker nurse since 1991 (my first implant surgery). I have been able to address all my questions with her; and if she doesn't know the answer, she would find out and call me back. This type of connection is very important and that's is why in 2004, I started Wired4Life, an online community for women with pacemakers.

There is still a lot of misunderstanding about living with pacemakers, regarding microwave ovens, electric blankets and other gadgets. There are real concerns regarding pacemakers and technology, and that's why it's important to have access to current information, either through support groups or research.

Living with a pacemaker is not the most difficult thing in the world; it just takes some adjustment.

I once received a lovely hematite necklace as a birthday gift. But when I wore it, I didn't feel right. I researched the stone and discovered it's a magnet. I immediately passed this information on to other women with pacemakers.

It's a different world today than when I had my first implant. There is much more information available, our understanding of pacemakers and heart disease is better and the internet can connect you easily with like-minded people.

Doctors should recognize the value of a community of like-minded people, such as women with pacemakers. It's not a new concept as smoking cessation groups have been around for decades. But I meet many women with pacemakers and other cardiac problems who feel alone, unsure and unaware of basic knowledge.

Primary care physicians and cardiologists could help these women by steering them toward reputable support groups, either online or within the community. One by one, we'll help all the wired women find the right bathing suit.

Ms. Huberty lives in Minnesota and can be reached via email: dawnhuberty@wired4life.net.