Medicine: Atomic Hearts

The pacemaker, a miniature machine that controls the heart rate by sending out regular electrical impulses, has meant new life for some 70,000 U.S. cardiac patients. But it has also meant a biennial trip to the hospital for surgery. Reason: the conventional pacemaker, implanted under the skin of the chest, must have its battery changed about every two years. For 16 cardiac patients last week, that recurrent surgery became a thing of the past. In operations performed at the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and the National Heart and Lung Institute in Bethesda, Md., nuclear-powered pacemakers were installed in their chests.


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