Health Sciences Campus

Adjusting to life with implantable cardiac devices focus of ECU researcher's work

GREENVILLE, NC  (Nov. 16, 2007)  —  A nationally recognized leader in the psychological care of patients with implantable cardiac devices has joined the faculty ofEast Carolina University.

Dr. Sam Sears is director of health psychology and also holds an appointment to the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the Brody School of Medicine.

A native of Florida, Sears worked and taught for more than 12 years at his alma mater, the University of Florida, before coming to Greenville.

“This university has the potential to grow, and the East Carolina Heart Institute is a fantastic opportunity,” said Sears, who will oversee the development of the doctoral program in health psychology.

Sears’ research focuses on implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD), which are used by cardiologists to treat annually more than 200,000 patients who have potentially life-threatening irregular heart beats. However, many of these patients have high levels of anxiety about receiving a significant shock, 750 volts, to restore a normal cardiac rhythm.

Sears researches and treats patients who become consumed with fear and worry about their devices.

“This technology is fantastic. The downside is part of the overall comprehensive care of the patient – behavioral and psychological needs. That’s the kind of care we want to provide at the East Carolina Heart Institute,” he said.

“It’s a modern-day challenge,” he said. “The progress of biotechnology produces psycho-social demands on the family. We can treat distress only after the cardiac arrest is treated.

“Cardiac patients like this are courageous. They have to go beyond their anxiety and have a little more swagger in their step. They have to live with this technology their whole life. Not been there done that, but living it every day,” Sears said.

A significant percentage of implant recipients are at risk for developing psychological problems based on their history or their experience when the devices shock their heart into normal rhythm, Sears said.

Dr. Wayne Cascio, professor of internal medicine and chief of cardiology at the Brody School of Medicine, said Sears is a perfect fit for the clinical and research work already underway at ECU.

“Since Sears’ clinical activity and research have focused on patients with cardiovascular disease, there’s a natural connection between his work and the East Carolina Heart Institute. We have immediately found a home for him in the cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and heart failure clinic at HealthSteps,” Cascio said.

“He brings expertise that allows us to develop patient- and family-focused research on how our modern technologies affect the emotional and psychological aspects of our patients,” he said.

Research Sears conducted with colleagues at the University ofFlorida showed that patients who reported high levels of optimism long-term showed significantly better functioning in general health, mental health, physical limitations and perception of illness than recipients with low levels of optimism.

Sears said psychological care is needed along with medical care as recipients of ICDs work to return to their day-to-day activities after surviving a heart attack.

“ICD patients and families can present with many different types of worries including, but not limited to, ICD shock, device malfunction, device recall, fears of pain or embarrassment or even fears of death. Some of these concerns can be addressed in a cardiology clinic, while others need to be referred for more extensive psychosocial treatment,” he said.

His most recent research on the effectiveness of an ICD shock and stress management program in patients with the devices was published in the July 2007 edition of Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiolog

Contact: ECU News Bureau | 252-328-6481