A Bethlehem man is living heart-healthy thanks to a procedure that may have saved his life.
Earlier this year, Joe Hessmiller was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition. Without warning, his heart could start beating rapidly and doctors said if the condition went untreated, he could die.
"I went for a normal stress test and they found that I had a very strange arrhythmia," Hessmiller told 69 News.
A month later, the 57-year-old received a one-of-a-kind implantable defibrillator at Lehigh Valley Hospital. Lehigh Valley Health Network says Hessmiller was the first person in the area to receive the device.
It was implanted under the skin near his armpit. A wire runs from the device to his breast bone, never touching his heart like a traditional defibrillator.
"Nothing really is entering the chest cavity, nothing is entering the major blood vessels and certainly nothing is touching the actual heart," said Dr. Hari Joshi, the cardiologist who performed Hessmiller's surgery. "If there are any issues with the wires, such as infections in the future, it's much easier to deal with it when everything is very superficial, so nothing is actually entering any critical organ here."
If needed, the fully automatic device can send a shock to Hessmiller's chest to jump-start his heart.
"I don't have to worry about people knowing where the defibrillator is on the wall in my office anymore. If I hit the floor, this will go off all by itself," he said.
Dr. Joshi said, "What I tell patients is you think of it as a safety net or an insurance policy, you kind of hope that you never have to use it but it's there if you need it."
According to Dr. Joshi, Lehigh Valley Health Network is the only place offering this treatment right now.
"I'm excited that this is another option available for patients requiring defibrillators," he said.
Hessmiller expects to have many more years ahead and has a very special reason to be around.
He said, "I just had a granddaughter, Keira Quinn, and I want to dance at her wedding. So a big part of why this whole thing was so important to me was I have things I need live long enough to do now."