GREENVILLE — Mike Simmons of Greenville bicycles 30 miles every day. He also walks and eats well.
These facts may not seem remarkable even for someone who is 68 years old, but what does make Simmons stand apart is that he maintains an active life after receiving a pacemaker more than 44 years ago.
Life expectancy rates are difficult to gauge, as there are various types of pacemakers implanted for different conditions and, according to Simmons, records are only kept for 10 years. Based on these factors, Simmons is believed to be the longest living pacemaker patient.
In 1964, life changed for Simmons at a young age when he went in for a standard physical to play football where an irregular heartbeat was detected. Simmons was referred to Henry Ford Hospital and received a heart catheterization. Doctors found he had a complete heart blockage. Beyond that treatment, however, nothing else was done until after Simmons graduated from Fowler High School in 1966.
As he became more active and entered the manufacturing workforce, he noticed he was becoming increasingly tired. In July, 1968, at age 20, Simmons received his first pacemaker, a small, battery-operated device to help his heart beat regularly, at what was then Ingham Medical Hospital in Lansing.
He had it implanted in a unique way to fit into his busy lifestyle. A portion of the pacemaker was implanted in his abdominal area with an external wiring that connected to the battery on his side. He carried a pen-like device that when he touched the battery it would increase his pulse rate to 85. This increased heart rate would allow him to participate in sports.
The first pacemakers were installed with General Electric batteries and had a life of one year. Simmons received new batteries in 1969 and 1970, and, in 1971, he received an improved battery that was released by Medtronics, a company that was founded in 1949 as a medical equipment repair shop and is now a multinational company that, it boasts, “uses technology to transform the way debilitating, chronic diseases are treated.” The improved batteries delayed the need to change batteries to every three years.
For each procedure of replacing batteries from his pacemaker, Simmons remained awake only having the insertion point numbed with local anesthetic. In 1999, Simmons received a new pacemaker due to the original wiring degrading. In 2004, he had the external pacemaker removed.
Simmons gets a yearly exam with his family doctor, Dr. William DuBois, in Canadian Lakes, but leaves his cardiac care to larger facilities, such as the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids. At his cardiac appointments every six months, he gets a rhythm strip whereas he used to get his pacemaker checked over the phone every three months. Fastidious self care seems to have boded well for Simmons based on his longevity.
“I have been thinking all along it has been quite some time to live with a pacer,” Simmons said. “I follow the advice of my family doctor, and why change a good thing?”