PITTSBURGH - It can be difficult for doctors to treat patients fast when they live far away from hospitals and major medical hubs like Pittsburgh. Channel 11 took a look at how some local doctors are using a device the size of a dime to save lives from afar.
For Joy Wolfe, the happiness of a pregnancy gave way to an impossible decision when doctors told her she had a rare heart defect and that she or her baby would be lucky to survive.
"We had to make a decision on who we were going to save," Wolfe remembers.
Instead, in 2017, she became a medical miracle.
"He came out screaming," said Wolfe. "Weighing 4 pounds, 6 ounces."
That was a happy ending, but Wolfe still had a dangerous heart defect caused by medications she took while fighting leukemia. Then, her cancer came back. The diagnosis meant a lot of trips to Pittsburgh from her home in Altoona. Those trips came every few weeks, until she got a CardioMEM device.
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"Now that I have the device, I go every two to three months," she said.
The CardioMEM is an FDA approved device. It's small and is put in a patient's artery in the lung to send information from a patient right to their doctor. In Wolfe's case, that was Doctor Raymond Benza, a heart specialist at Allegheny Health Network.
"It's not like someone calling. saying. 'I'm short of breath, my weight has increased,' we know exactly what is going on with the heart," he told Channel 11.
All it take is a pillow at home.
"Every morning when I get up, I set the pillow up and lay on it and it reads my pressures and sends it to the doctors," Wolfe said. "Then I just go about my day."
Doctor Benza and Allegheny General Hospital helped pilot research into how this device could help pulmonary hypertension patients like Wolfe.
"These people end up in the hospital all the time and get treated in the hospital instead of where we should get treated, in the community," said Dr. Benza.
He has patients as far away as Texas and can monitor their health and make changes to their medicine without needing to see them in person. This allows patients to live normal lives and allows doctors to know their patient is okay without needing to rely on the patient self-diagnosing symptoms.
Right now, the device is not covered by Medicare and Medicaid in Pennsylvania and Doctor Benza says those are often the patients who need it most. Highmark has approved the device.
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