Device uses GPS technology to show human heart

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- A new medical device here in the Valley is changing the way doctors navigate the human heart as they operate and place devices like pacemakers and defibrillators.

“There is a vein that exits the right upper chamber and wraps around the back of the heart, around the left lower chamber, that can have very small branches, sometimes a couple of inches in diameter,” said Dr. Mark Seifert at John C. Lincoln Heart Institute.

It is easy to see on a clear plastic model he showed us, but in reality, the only way doctors can really see what is going on is with an X-ray, and that can be full of problems.

Seifert said, “When you think about having 1,100 back-to-back chest X-rays, that just sounds like so much radiation, but in fact, those are the kind numbers we are talking about.”

But a brand new MediGuide system at the JCL Heart Institute is changing all that.

“We take short X-ray movie pictures, which we then replay continuously, synchronized with both the patient's breathing, heart rate and with any movement on the patient's part,” Seifert explained.

JCL has one of just 15 MediGuide devices in the country.

The short X-ray movie acts like a road map in a GPS system.

“With our system, we use specially enabled catheters that allows the system to determine where in space the catheter is with a spatial accuracy of roughly one-tenth of a millimeter," Seifert said.

What doctors see with MediGuide is an image of the heart and blood vessels. They show up as dark images, like roads on a GPS screen. The sensors in the tools they use look like little colored cars, and the doctor “drives” the entire device with a small handle that operates the catheter.

“We have a catheter that deflects with a steerable handle, and by rotating the handle, we can steer it," Seifer said. "By looking at these angles, we can try to advance our tools into the appropriate spot."

He says says not only is it incredibly accurate, but it has cut down radiation time significantly, which has proved to be a true roadmap to saving lives.

“This system has actually, in some instances, allowed us to complete procedures which would not otherwise have been possible due to prolonged X-ray requirements," he said.