“A Paramedic in his Chest”

Olympian Paul Wylie survived sudden cardiac arrest and is now looking ahead to the future.

Paul Wylie is the picture of excellent health.

At age 51, and more than 20 years after winning an Olympic silver medal in figure skating, he still skates professionally. (You can watch his silver-medal-winning performance on YouTube).

He’s active and fit, and he’s the last person you’d expect to have a serious heart issue.

Erik Kopco, Billy Griggs, Paul Wylie

Erik Kopco, Billy Griggs, Paul Wylie

Paul and his two rescuers at the Medtronic Twin Cities 10 Mile race in October, 2016

But in April of 2015, on a pre-dawn training run with a running group in Charlotte, North Carolina, he collapsed. His heart just stopped.

His running mates called for help while fellow runners Erik Kopco and Billy Griggs started CPR.

 “His eyes would come open and he would gasp for breath and we thought we had him back,” said Griggs, who performed more than 400 chest compressions to help keep Wylie alive. “And he was right back out. I thought he was going to die.”

Paul Wylie skating

Paramedics took over and rushed Wylie to the hospital. An injection finally got his heart started again.

Wylie had suffered sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), an electrical malfunction that causes the heart to suddenly stop. It’s the leading cause of death among people over 40, and it kills about 95 percent of its victims. (October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness month. Learn more.)

After two days in an induced coma, Wylie survived.

Paul Wylie

“I get it a lot from people who just say ‘how in the world did this happen to you?’’ Wylie said. “At the end of the day it was an electrical glitch. That’s what sudden cardiac arrest is.”

Wylie was lucky. The immediate CPR kept blood flowing to his brain, preventing neurological damage. Plus, paramedics and the hospital were just minutes away. Those factors, combined with his own good health, contributed to his survival, and recovery.


Paul Wylie holds an MRI compatible ICD next to his Olympic Silver Medal

“In Paul’s case, there was no sign of any underlying heart disease, so we’re not really sure why he had the episode of sudden cardiac arrest,” said cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. William Bock. “So he definitely needed the insurance of having an ICD.”

An ICD, or implantable cardioverter defibrillator, is a device implanted in a patient’s upper chest. It can pace a person’s heart if it gets out of rhythm, or it can shock the patient if the rhythm gets dangerously fast.

“I joke with my friends that he has a paramedic in his chest,” said Wylie’s wife, Kate. “He’s not alone. And that gives me incredible peace.”

Paul and Caleb Wylie

Taking Heart Devices to the Next Level

As the years go by, the chances will grow that Paul will someday need an MRI to diagnose other health issues, muscle or tissue problems, or possibly certain diseases.

“MRI scanning is becoming more and more helpful and powerful at diagnosing a lot of other conditions in the body,” said Dr. Bock. “So it’s a huge advantage to have a device that allows MRI scans to be performed,” he said.

But  Paul’s highly sophisticated ICD is not compatible with the powerful magnetic fields of MRI machines. New ICDs that are compatible with MRI scans were approved by the FDA just a few months after Paul received his device. It took Medtronic more than a decade to solve the MRI-compatibility issue. 

Dr. David Steinhaus

Dr. David Steinhaus

VP and Medical Director, Cardiac Rhythm and Heart Failure, Medtronic

“It really took Medtronic and the FDA working together to work out the science of how to do this,” said Dr. David Steinhaus, vice president and medical director of  the Cardiac Rhythm and Heart Failure business at Medtronic. “It’s complicated science. When you take a small, sensitive device and put it into a magnet with 30,000 times the power of earth’s magnetic field, and then you turn on electricity, you can imagine there could be interactions with these devices,” he said.

Medtronic makes more MRI-conditional implantable electronic devices than any other company in the world, and not just for the heart. For example, Medtronic also offers other MRI-compatible heart devices, spinal cord stimulators, and deep brain stimulation systems.

Paul Wylie

“We see it as a very high priority,” said Dr. Steinhaus. “It’s important to Medtronic because of our Mission. We are dedicated to making devices that alleviate pain, restore health and extend life. But they have to work in the medical environment as well. So if we’re really caring about the whole person, and the whole life of the whole person, we have to give that person access to MRI scanning so they can get the best possible care,” he said.

It will be several years before Paul’s device needs replacing; when it is, he will ask his doctor that it be compatible with MRI scans. 
In the meantime, he intends to share the story of how the ‘paramedic in his chest’ helps him live life without worrying about sudden cardiac arrest.  And he has advice for other patients who need medical devices.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My ICD helps give me peace of mind. And part of the purpose of this happening to me is that I can get out and tell people that if they feel like they need to get an MRI in the future they need to ask their doctor to get MRI-compatible devices.  I wish I had one. I’m hoping that in the coming years, I’ll get one.”

Important Safety Information for the Evera MRI SureScan ICD System

An implantable defibrillation (ICD) system relieves symptoms of heart rhythm disturbances. They do this by restoring normal heart rates. A normal heart rate provides your body with the proper amount of blood circulation. The defibrillation system is intended for patients who are at risk for a potentially life-threatening heart rhythm.

Risks associated with defibrillation system implants include, but are not limited to infection at the surgical site and/or sensitivity to the device material, failure to deliver therapy when it is needed, or receiving extra therapy when it is not needed. After receiving an implantable defibrillation system, you will have limitations with magnetic and electromagnetic radiation, electrical or gas powered appliances, and tools with which you are allowed to be in contact.

A complete SureScan defibrillation system consists of an approved combination (visit http://www.mrisurescan.com) of a SureScan device with the appropriate number of SureScan leads, is required for use in the MRI environment.

Any other combination may result in a hazard to the patient during an MRI scan.

When programmed to On, the MRI SureScan feature allows the patient to be safely scanned while the device continues to provide appropriate pacing or defibrillation therapy. The Evera MRI SureScan defibrillation system is MR Conditional. This means the defibrillation system is designed to allow patients to undergo MRI, when your doctor determines you meet patient eligibility requirements and the scan is conducted according to Medtronic directions.

This treatment is prescribed by your physician. This treatment is not for everyone. Please talk to your doctor to see if it is right for you. Your physician should discuss all potential benefits and risks with you. Although many patients benefit from the use of this treatment, results may vary.

For further questions, contact patient services at 1 (800) 551-5544.