Veteran thriving with new heart implantable defibrillator

Heart Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Mar 20, 2024

In his 40 years of life, retired veteran James Norman has overcome more health challenges than most people do in an entire lifetime. He has also made Texas health history. This is his story.

Making heart history in Texas

James’ health journey has been marked by serious milestones and glorious achievements. He is a retired disabled veteran, having served two tours of duty in Iraq—the first in October 2003 and the second in 2007. 

Both tours included serious accidents that resulted in life-altering injuries, including damaged knees and a crushed back. To date, he has had 28 surgeries to correct his injuries. 

James, a resident of Mineral Wells, recently became the first Texan, and one of only a handful of people in the United States, to receive a newly approved implantable cardiac defibrillator to treat his rapid irregular heartbeats—a condition known as tachycardia. The procedure was performed by a team of cardiovascular specialists at Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital – Fort Worth. 

It all started one evening in October 2023 after James returned home with his daughter from her volleyball game. 

“I sat down on the couch. I wasn’t doing anything,” James said. “At 9:15 PM, my neck started feeling tight and my heart was racing. I tried all the techniques I had learned over the years to get it to slow down, but nothing worked.”

On his wife’s urging, James headed to the hospital, where his care team tried different IV medications before finally shocking his heart to slow it down.

The team was able to stabilize his heart rate, but he still required more specialized care. James was transferred to Fort Worth, where he met Aleem Mughal, MD, a cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital – Fort Worth. 

“Dr. Mughal told me he thought I had an electrical issue with my heart,” James said. “They discharged me with an external defibrillator. A few days later Dr. Mughal called me and told me about the new implantable defibrillator.”

A life-changing heart surgery takes place

On Nov. 14, 2023, a clinical team led by Dr. Mughal and Anita Krueger, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth, implanted the Aurora EV-ICD system in James. 

The medical team positioned the extravascular defibrillator under his left armpit with a thin lead wire placed just under his sternum, outside of his heart and veins, to deliver a rhythm-regulating shock if needed. The defibrillator received Food and Drug Administration approval for general use only a few weeks prior to James’ procedure. 

“I was pretty excited when they told me I would probably be one of the first people in the country to receive the defibrillator,” James said. 

The Aurora system allows people like James to experience the benefits of traditional implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs), while reducing certain risks such as narrowing, blockage or compression of a vein or blood infections, that can result from placing leads inside the heart or veins. Placing the lead outside is designed to help avoid these long-term complications. 

The Aurora EV ICD provides anti-tachycardia pacing and a battery longevity of about 10 years.

“James was an ideal candidate for the device given his young age and a desire to preserve his vasculature—the intricate system of blood vessels that circulate blood throughout the body,” Dr. Mughal said. “The Aurora EV ICD allows us to tailor the best therapy for an individual patient.”  

Returning to daily life with fewer worries

James couldn’t be happier with the care he received and is grateful for the opportunity to receive this new type of implantable defibrillator.

“Everything was explained to me every step of the way,” he said. “If I were talking to someone with a similar diagnosis, I would tell them to not go anywhere else for care. I would also say to listen to and carefully consider all the options presented so they can choose the best one.” 

James’ next stop after being released from the hospital was cardiac rehabilitation near his home in Mineral Wells. He’s excited to be active again, now with the peace of mind that his heart is taken care of.

“I’m feeling a lot better, working out and running again,” he said. “Everything went so smoothly, I really didn’t have time to worry about anything. After all, I only have one heart.” 

Having a healthy heart allows you to enjoy life and do the things you love. Worried about your heart? Talk to a cardiologist today.  

We make it easy.

Healthcare doesn't have to be difficult. We're constantly finding ways to make it easy so that you can get Better and stay that way.

Better tools make it easier

We all have different healthcare needs. Handle them your way with the MyBSWHealth app. Download the app today and take a hands-on approach to your healthcare.

Text Better to 88408