Recycle Pacemakers, Save Lives Around the World


When people recycle newspapers and plastic, they can help the planet, and if they recycle pacemakers, they could save the lives of those who cannot afford one. Experts at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center have investigated the legality and details involved in the collection and reissuing of donated pacemakers to people around the world.

Recycling pacemakers is a novel humanitarian effort

About 100,000 pacemakers are implanted in the United States each year. Pacemakers are small devices that use electrical pulses to help control abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly, and not enough blood is pumped through the body. The result can be fatigue, shortness of breath, fainting, and when severe, arrhythmias can damage the organs and even result in death.

Around the globe, 1 to 2 million people die each year because they cannot afford a pacemaker. Yet at the same time, every year there are a great number of people who have implanted pacemakers that are removed when the individuals die and the devices are thrown away. Those pacemakers could find new homes and save the lives of people who otherwise have no access to these devices.

In a new study, Kim A. Eagle, MD, a cardiologist and a director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, explained that “establishing a validated pacemaker reutilization program could transform a currently wasted resource into an opportunity for a new life for many citizens in the world.”


The authors note that small humanitarian efforts have demonstrated that the risk of infection when using recycled pacemakers is the same—less than 2 percent—as implanting a new device. Patients also live as long and have as good a quality of life with a recycled pacemaker as patients who receive a new one.

Even though the cost of new pacemakers is as low as $800 in some foreign markets, this amount is “often more than the annual income of the average worker in underdeveloped nations,” noted Eagle. Cardiovascular disease continues to be an epidemic in these countries and others around the world.

Now a collaborative effort between individuals, physicians and funeral directors of Michigan, the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, and World Medical Relief, Inc., a nonprofit based in Detroit that focuses on delivering used medical equipment, have established Project My Heart—Your Heart. The goal of this partnership is to provide life-saving recycled pacemakers to patients who cannot afford them.

Last year, a University of Michigan survey found that 87 percent of people with pacemakers and 71 percent of the general population would be willing to donate a device to patients in underdeveloped countries. A survey of 100 Michigan funeral directors found that 84 percent said pacemakers were routinely thrown away or stored with no purpose, and 89 percent of directors were willing to donate them for charitable use.

According to the study’s lead author Timir Baman, MD, a University of Michigan cardiology fellow, donated pacemakers with a battery life greater than 70 percent will be sterilized, patient information will be erased, and the recycled devices will be sent to institutions overseas, where they can be reused and save lives.

University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center