Knoxville (WVLT) -- East Tennessee is playing a role in a medical study that could change the way heart attacks are treated in the future.
Volunteer TV's Health Reporter Jessa Goddard has the details.
A Morristown woman is the first in Tennessee to be implanted with a device that monitors for signs of an impending heart attack.
It's part of a clinical trial testing the Guardian device, roughly the size of a pacemaker, that alerts a patient when he or she is experiencing the early symptoms of a heart attack.
Darlene Bell, 61, was diagnosed with aggressive coronary artery disease in 2001.
"So, I've had the five stents placed and I had triple bypass surgery last April, and I continue to have blockages, so I have angina," said Bell.
Since then, she says she's suffered chest pain and gone to the emergency room more times than she cares to count.
"Well, sometime down the road, I am going to have the heart attack, and I just wanted to make sure I knew because it's frightening to live everyday not knowing when you're going to have one," she said.
Interventional cardiologists decided that made Darlene an ideal candidate to take part in a clinical trial testing the safety and effectiveness of the Guardian system.
They implanted a device under her skin, in the upper left side of her chest.
It will register her heart's electrical signal using a small wire positioned inside her heart.
"So it turns out, before a person has a heart attack, has the big one, they will have a small, mini heart attack which a person may not appreciate," said Dr. Malcolm Foster.
If the monitor detects something abnormal, it will vibrate underneath the patient's skin, similar to a cell phone vibration.
It will also send a signal to a pager that will beep and flash light.
That will alert the patient to seek medical care hours, even days, before the heart attack takes place.
"If it works as well as its been designed, then it will detect a heart attack well in advance, giving me time to get to the hospital and saving my life," said Dr. Foster.
Darlene is one of only 20 patients nationwide taking part in the initial clinical trial.
The device is still considered experimental.
After the initial clinical trial, another larger trial will take place.
Cardiologists say if the Guardian system proves to be safe and effective, we may have a shift in the early detection and warning of heart attacks for high risk patients.
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