World’s smallest pacemaker powers 91-year-old’s passions

Donald Pittman continues his wood carving passion with his uber small Micra pacemakerIn early December, Don Pittman received a 26-millimeter gift.

The Micra Transcatheter Pacing System that now helps power his heart is the world’s smallest pacemaker.

“This kind of procedure is the wave of the future,” said Dr. Benjamin Rhee, Carle Heart and Vascular Institute electrophysiologist. “Micra is fast, safe and easy to do. Patients are very excited to hear about the minimal recovery period and the lower risk of infection.”

MicraDr. Rhee and his team implanted one of the first Micras at Carle by accessing Don’s femoral artery through his groin. Micra works differently than other pacemakers, focusing its power on the right ventricle, which pumps blood to the lungs. Most pacemakers use lead wires to connect to the atrium to the ventricle. 

“Micra is most commonly used for patients of advanced age who have strong hearts that need only a small amount of pacing,” Dr. Rhee said. “Patients are up walking the next day, and we tell them no heavy lifting for a week.”

Now 91, Don remembers his first visit to Carle.

“When I was a young kid, around 10 or 11, I fell while we were playing hockey at Crystal Lake Park, and I busted my chin. They fixed me right up,” he said. “Carle was in a house at the time. It’s certainly changed since then.”

So has Don.

After serving as a Navy ammunitions expert in the South Pacific during World War II, Don played football for the University of Illinois and then spent much of his career teaching and coaching in Champaign.

Don Pittman shows one of his woodworking creations, a cutout of a chickadee.He had planned to be a carpenter like his grandfather and great-grandfather. Because of the GI Bill, Don went to college instead, but he never lost his love for woodworking.

The workshop attached to his Loda lake home features saws, lathes, sanders and pretty much any tool he might need to create “anything I can make that features the out of doors.” He typically spends 25 to 30 hours a week creating cutouts of chickadees, wood ducks and other feathered friends.

When usually active Don started to feel tired all the time, Norma, his bride of nearly seven decades, made sure his doctors checked things out, which led to her beau receiving the diminutive device.

“Within a day or two, we noticed a difference,” Don said. “I can tell you that I don’t have that dragged-out-tired feeling any more.

“Modern medicine has really done the job.”

Modern medicine, indeed.

Norma and Don Pittman in his workshop at the lake home in Loda, Illinois.In addition to making sure his heart beats and beats well, Don’s Micra stores and sends information about his heart to Carle using Bluetooth technology.

“I asked Dr. Rhee how long the battery on the pacemaker would last. When he told me 12 years, it kind of tickled me,” he said, proving he maintains a good sense of humor about his long life.

A life spent with Norma.

“I fell head over heels for her,” he said. “She’s a very wonderful person. She’s such a gift to me.

“I’m lucky, lucky, lucky to have her.”