Donald Mathison's Story

South Shore Hospital Cardiologist Implants First Subcutaneous Heart Defibrillator

Don Mathison

Alexei Shvilkin, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist with South Shore
Cardiology in Weymouth, completed the first implant of a subcutaneous implantable cardioverter defibrillator (S-ICD) at South Shore Hospital in November. South Shore Hospital is the first regional hospital to implant this type of defibrillator system for patients at risk of cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death (SCD) — the most common cause of death in the United States.

The device has only been available since late 2012, and is an exciting
advancement, offering patients a less invasive procedure than the traditional transvenous implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), in which the leads are fed into the heart through a vein and attached to the heart wall. “The new defibrillator offers a significant advantage for patients because the device is implanted just below the skin, and the lead is implanted along the breastbone,
also just under the skin, rather than through a vein and into the heart,” Dr. Shvilkin said. “This less invasive technique leaves the heart and blood vessels untouched. The current S-ICD system is a second generation device. It has been significantly improved from the original model. It is smaller, more comfortable to patients, and has more sophisticated computer algorithms minimizing the risks of complications. It has been studied in thousands of patients and demonstrated a good track record, making me comfortable recommending it to my patients,” he continued.

According to the American Heart Association, approximately every 43 seconds someone in the United States has a myocardial infarction heart
attack). At only 57 years of age and healthy, Abington resident Donald Mathison became part of that statistic last December when he experienced a massive heart attack. Though Mr. Mathison has a family history of heart disease — his father even dying from a massive  heart attack at a young age — it still came as a complete shock to him and his family.

“That day started just like any other workday... but I remember feeling off,” Mathison said. “My left arm was a bit sore, but I just assumed I had slept on it wrong. It was the constant nausea and sweating, however, that made me unable to go on with my day,” he recalled.

Like in many patients suffering a heart attack, Donald’s symptoms started slowly, which often makes it easy to ignore symptoms and delay treatment. Fortunately, Donald did quickly seek treatment at South Shore Hospital. David A. Litvak, MD, cardiologist at South Shore Cardiology, immediately performed balloon angioplasty and stenting, opening the blocked coronary artery. The procedure saved Donald’s life and minimized the amount of damage to his heart.

Despite that, his heart sustained some damage which put him at risk for a future cardiac arrest. This made him a perfect candidate for implanting a defibrillator. As an active traveler, father to five girls and happily married to his best friend and longtime wife, Sharon, Donald planned to do anything necessary to maintain his heart health and continue living a full life. 

Less than a year after his heart attack, Donald Mathison became Dr. Shvilkin’s first patient at South Shore Hospital to receive the subcutaneous heart defibrillator. While the S-ICD constantly monitors your heart rhythm, in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest, it is ready to instantly deliver treatment. The procedure is certainly suitable for a large population of patients, but is not intended for some, including patients who require a pacemaker. 

“I am so thankful for Dr. Shvilkin’s expertise and the wonderful South Shore Hospital team of clinicians who all provided seamless care,” said
Sharon, Donald’s wife.

South Shore Hospital offers leading cardiac care on the South Shore with a mission to provide the highest level of quality and safety in the delivery. You can trust your heart to care that includes:

  • Southeastern Massachusetts’ largest staff of board-certified cardiologists
  • The region’s most active cardiac catheterization laboratory
  • A comprehensive cardiovascular diagnostic lab
  • The region’s only cardiac electrophysiology lab
  • Extensive cardiac rehabilitation and disease management programs.

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