DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My wife is 85 and is scheduled to have a pacemaker put in. She has been quite tight-lipped about this whole deal. I wasn’t aware that she had heart trouble. Is a woman of her age up to having open-heart surgery? What can you tell me about the procedure? What does a pacemaker do? I’ve been told she won’t be able to use a microwave oven or a cell phone after the operation. Why? – M.O.

Your wife isn’t going to have open-heart surgery. Installing a pacemaker isn’t as complicated as you might imagine and it isn’t draining for the patient. A pacemaker consists of a generator – a battery-powered unit about the size of a thin stopwatch. It’s put under the skin beneath the collarbone. One or two long wires emerge from the generator. The doctor passes those wires into a large vein that leads to the heart. That’s the end of the procedure. Very little cutting takes place, and the installation is over in a short time.

Every heartbeat starts out as an electric signal generated by the heart’s own built-in pacemaker, a small island of special cells in the upper part of the heart. That signal passes down to the lower heart chambers – the ventricles – through cables called bundles. When it reaches the ventricles, they contract and pump blood. If the natural pacemaker fails or the bundles are short-circuited, then the heart beats so slowly that blood fails to reach the brain. People feel dizzy and are on the verge of fainting. Under these circumstances, an artificial pacemaker is lifesaving.

Pacemakers also are useful for some people with severe congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure makes people short of breath. Their ankles and feet often swell. Medicines help. When they don’t, a pacemaker can get the two ventricles to beat in sync so that they can pump more forcefully and relieve the congestion.

Pacemakers don’t stop people from using microwave ovens or cell phones.

The booklet on congestive heart failure describes what this condition is and how it is treated. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 103, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I saw this in the Wellness Letter from the University of California, Berkeley. Would this information be appropriate for your column? If so, it could save many lives. – S.W.

It would be most appropriate, and I’ll quote as much as I can from it.

“More than 100,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant in the U.S., but there are only about 15,000 organ donors a year. There is no upper age limit for donating organs or tissue (cornea, skin). You can get a donor card at no cost from the government ( or 888-275-4772). Keep a copy in your wallet and another at home with important papers. Donating organs is not disfiguring, and it does not delay funeral arrangements. Nearly all major religions approve of such donations.”

The Wellness Letter is a good health letter, isn’t it?

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A while ago, you answered a question about cinnamon controlling blood sugar. You indicated that there was no evidence that it could do so. My experience has been that cinnamon on a daily basis has really leveled out my sugar. I have oatmeal with half a teaspoon of cinnamon every morning. It has kept my sugar at an acceptable level. – S.W.

ANSWER: About six years ago, one study showed that cinnamon lowered blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Two subsequent studies, however, failed to demonstrate an appreciable drop in blood sugar with cinnamon.

I can’t argue with your experience. It worked for you. Others can try it. It won’t hurt. Don’t, however, stop taking your blood sugar medicines.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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