Jerry Kelleher knew that one day he’d need a pacemaker. His cardiologists over the years had warned him as much. But what he couldn’t have known was that when the time came, he’d be excited about it.
“I was thrilled to be part of the clinical trial at Hoag,” Kelleher, 71, said of the world’s first dual chamber leadless pacemaker, Aveir™ DR by Abbott. “I had a couple of friends’ parents who had traditional pacemakers. Many of them had issues with the wires (or leads) afterwards, and it was a major surgery for them. They were laid up for weeks. The new wireless pacemaker seemed like a tremendous improvement from a traditional wired pacemaker.”
Under the expert care of electrophysiologist Rajesh Banker, M.D., the principal investigator in the clinical trial, Kelleher underwent a minimally invasive surgery to implant the pacemaker in February of 2022.
“It’s nothing,” he said. “They go in through your thigh, so they don’t have to cut you open. There’s no big recovery time. They keep you overnight just to make sure the one stitch you have in your leg is fine, but then you go home the next day, and you’re done.”
Having contended with electrophysiological conditions for 30 years, Kelleher has undergone five cardiac ablations and as many cardioversion treatments. He experiences atrial fibrillation in one chamber of his heart and atrial flutter in another – one reason Dr. Banker told Kelleher he would be a good candidate for this leading-edge device that was only available in select clinical trial sites.
A former U.S. Rugby Team member and lifelong athlete, Kelleher said that prior to his surgery, his heart rate had begun to plummet to the point of lethargy. Finding the motivation to do anything – even play sports he loves, like pickleball and golf – became a challenge. It was time to do something about it.
“I forced myself to do things like ride my Peloton or play golf, but I didn’t look forward to them,” he said. “It was really affecting my quality of life.”
After explaining the procedure, Dr. Banker told Kelleher to expect a significant improvement, but Kelleher said he was still surprised by how much better he felt immediately after surgery.
“It has been a wonderful sensation to return back to normal,” he said.
Kelleher is back to playing pickleball and riding his Peloton – without dread. He is even back to traveling with a group of 28 people who meet yearly to play golf in various locations. This year’s trip involves five rounds of golf in five days in North Carolina.
“I feel like myself again, and there are no restrictions,” he said.
When friends ask him about his participation in a clinical trial, he tells them about the elegance of the device and the simplicity of the procedure. He also tells them about his trust in Dr. Banker.
“I had concern about the fact that it was a trial, but my confidence in Dr. Banker superseded any of that,” he said. “I have a lot of trust in him and in Hoag. If he trusted it, that was good enough for me.”