Implants a medical first for Coffs Harbour
The first pacemaker implant operations have been conducted in Coffs Harbour.
Despite this being a common and life saving procedure, until now, people requiring pacemakers and defibrillators have had to travel to Newcastle or Sydney.
The procedures have been carried out by Cardiologist Dr Austin May and the team at Baringa Private Hospital.
Dr May was born in Coffs Harbour as one of five children who undertook their primary and secondary schooling locally.
"Sadly, for my mother, I'm the only one who has returned to the region," Dr May said.
He spent 15 years of uninterrupted training to provide the Coffs Coast with local access to pacemakers and defibrillators.
His return is testament to the University of NSW Rural Clinical School program, designed to encourage specialists to move to regional areas to address geographical inequalities in healthcare.
"When I was growing up in Coffs I saw a lot of people travelling such long distances for healthcare and a lot of these people are quite elderly.
"When people need pacemakers they're often blacking out and getting light headed. They would be waiting for air transfer either on the days it was available or when the weather was good, so that was something I felt I could address.
"Also I felt like something as simple as a battery change, for somebody who is 90 or 95 years, to have to travel so far for, was just unacceptable."
Since the service kicked off less than three months ago 20 devices have already been implanted.
One of those to benefit from the service is Nambucca man Evan Cleland who needed his defibrillator replaced as its battery life was coming to an end.
In his 80s, Evan says the greatest difficulties for him were transport and accommodation if he needed to travel to a major city.
While the service is only available for those with private health insurance, Dr May is pursuing opportunities to offer it to all patients, especially the elderly and other at-risk populations during the coronavirus pandemic to avoid unnecessary travel to Newcastle or Sydney.
Modern pacemakers are extremely thin (8mm), last approximately 10 years and weigh only 24 grams. They are compatible with MRI scans and have the option for 24-hour at-home monitoring to alert the treating cardiologist early of any problems.
The Coffs pacing service has been endorsed by the four major international device companies - Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Biotronik and Abbott St Jude. As such, Coffs Harbour residents now have access to the latest in pacemaker and defibrillator technology.
Dr May was inspired to enter the field of medicine by his father Stephen May who is a well known General Practitioner in Coffs Harbour.
"I was the only one of the five of us to study medicine. My dad has inspired me and continues to inspire me."