Houston firefighter back on duty after major health scare

A Houston firefighter is thankful to get a second chance in life. He's back on the job, doing what he loves most, after a major health scare.

Jason Belin is an Engineer Operator at Station 102. Talk about being in the right place at the right time a few months ago when he spiraled into a medical crisis!

He was in a class with colleagues when he started feeling really bad. Crazy thing is, they all thought he was bored in class and decided to just take a nap right there on his desk.

"I started feeling dizzy. I felt like I wasn't gonna be able to sustain in class, so I just laid my head on the desk. After that, I lost consciousness and started sweating real bad. The guys tell me I was passed out at least a minute," recalls Jason.

This wasn't the first time it had happened. He actually suffered a similar episode five years ago, but it was misdiagnosed as a seizure. He was hoping it was just a one-time incident, but obviously, that wasn't the case!


He's relieved that his buddies helped him out.  After stabilizing him, they made sure he got the medical care he needed, and paramedics raced him to Memorial Hermann Southeast.

It turned out to be a blessing that Jason's heart repeated the problem multiple times, not only in the ambulance, but also at the hospital. In fact, medical workers taught his wife how to record an episode on what Jason calls an EKG machine. She was actually the one who captured exactly what was happening to him!

"They saw that my heart rate was dropping from 80 to 20 in a matter of 10 seconds.  The doctor came in and knew exactly what was going on with my heart," explains Jason.

We got to talk to Dr. Khashayar Hematpour, an electrophysiologist at UTHealth Houston/ Memorial Hermann, who works with the team who helped diagnosis and rally Jason at Memorial Hermann.

"This gentleman's problem is not a primary cardiac problem. It's a severe form of vasovagal syncope, which means there's a little imbalance between the nerves that come through the brain all the way to the heart, and also sometimes your body just overreacts and slows down the heart rate too much," explains Dr. Hematpour.

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He explains that they didn't use a traditional pacemaker that has leads or wires, but a leadless or wireless pacemaker. Instead of sitting near the collarbone on the outer edge of the chest, a surgeon placed his small pacemaker directly into his heart!

"We place it through a large vein in the groin. The pacemaker, which is like the shape of a bullet, actually is inserted through a tube that goes all the way to the top right chamber (of the heart). From there, we bend it down, because this a steerable sheath, and inserted the implant inside the bottom right chamber on the heart, released it, removed our tube, and put a stitch in the groin," states Dr. Hematpour.

Then, the pacemaker will kick in and help if Jason's heart dips below the ideal level. The battery is expected to last about 15 years, but it does have to be checked about once a year, and Jason says that's quite a jolt, when he undergoes that test.

While this option was optimal for a young, active man, like Jason, this option isn't for everyone.

"Currently for the vast majority of people, we still offer them conventional pacemakers, which have one, two, or three different wires. So, it (wireless pacemaker) hasn't completely replaced the old technology. The conventional pacemaker with a wire is still the first thing to turn to, though it does have a weak point, because it's constantly moving. The wires are constantly moving with the heart, and they can fracture," explains Dr. Hematpour.

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Jason is relieved about the treatment he received. He wants to be strong and healthy for his loving family.

"I have no restrictions at all with this one. Everyday activities are the same. With the other one, I possibly could have had restrictions with it," further explains Jason.

Better yet, he stopped having any episodes after his surgery.

"I feel very blessed! I'm glad I was at the right spot at the right time to be able to get this situation taken care of," states a smiling Jason. He believes his faith also helped with his healing!

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