Nuclear Pacemaker Still Energized After 47 Years

A U.S. surgeon who implanted a nuclear-powered pacemaker into a 20-year-old woman in 1973 says the device is still going strong after 47 years and may have saved money over the long run. Dr. Victor Parsonnet of the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center says he's not advocating a return to those devices because they have drawbacks. Despite an original $5,000 price tag — more than $30,232.24 today — follow-up costs have been about $19,000 compared with $55,000 for a battery-powered pacemaker. A standard pacemaker probably would have needed replacement 4-5 times over the past three decades, along with extra monitoring. The woman, now 67, has tolerated her Numec NU-5 well — except for the need to repair a connector — and maintains a normal routine. Nuclear pacemakers have been controversial because they're powered by plutonium, one of the most dangerous substances known. Today, doctors want to be able to periodically replace older-model pacemakers anyway, as the technology for pacing the heart improves.