When Christine Bocus was 14 years old, a routine health checkup in her native Trinidad revealed some alarming news.
“They discovered my heart beat was low,” said Bocus, who is now 23. “Up to this day, they haven’t found out why.”
Even though she was healthy and felt fine, her condition was serious enough to warrant a pacemaker.
Bocus received a device through Tampa, Fla.-based Heartbeat International, which has helped 13,000 patients in developing nations receive life-saving treatments for cardiac problems.
Bocus now is on her second device, implanted in 2011, and works at the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. She was in Lake Oswego today to meet with employees of Biotronik, which manufactured her device.
Biotronik, based in Berlin, Germany, is one of the world’s largest producers of pacemakers and defibrillators. Its North American headquarters sits in Lake Oswego, where the majority of its devices are made.
Biotronik has donated 2,000 devices to Heartbeat International since the collaboration began, for a total value is $14 million. These devices can run anywhere from $2,000 to $40,000 each.
“We’re very proud of this,” said Marlou Janssen, president of Biotronik in the U.S.
She said the company decided in 2009 to donate devices that would otherwise have gone to waste.
“We have a number of devices every year that we destroy,” she said. “I thought it was such a waste. So many patients can’t afford a pacemaker or ICD. In a lot of countries, patients don’t have insurance. The whole family has to chip in or the patient dies.”
Heartbeat International not only collects the devices but sends U.S. doctors abroad to help implant them and educate local doctors. The organization also provides ongoing monitoring as well as new devices and batteries, as needed, as long as the patient’s financial situation remains the same.
“For us, the education and humanitarian effort are really important,” Janssen said.
Biotronik and Micro Systems Engineering, which assembles the electronics inside the devices, together employ 500 people in Lake Oswego, in a plant off Boones Ferry Road. Briotronik has the most automated ICD and pacemaker production in the world, Janssen said.
Biotronik periodically brings patients like Bocus to Lake Oswego so they can meet with employees and tour the plant.
“We like to expose employees to patient stories,” Janssen said. “It means so much to them to know what you work for.”