Two years ago, Tim Shockley’s blood pressure suddenly shot through the roof.
"It was a sudden change. From one doctor to the next, roughly six months in between, no cause, no difference. And all of a sudden at this doctor’s appointment the blood pressure was crazy high," Shockley said.
He took four drugs at maximum dosage but still, his blood pressure was high.
"The side effects were intolerable. One gives you joint pain -- can’t get around the block. Another one, the fatigue is such that you just can’t operate," he said.
Then he got a stroke in his right eye.
"Your sight is everything. I’ve got an 18-month-old grandson. The thought of not being able to watch him grow up, it’s terrifying," he said.
Desperate for a solution, Shockley volunteered to be the first in the U.S. to try out a new device being tested at USC Keck Medical Center.
Barostim Neo, a pacemaker-like device implanted under the collarbone that sends electrical signals through a wire that is connected to the carotid artery in the neck, could help control high blood pressure without drugs, surgeon Dr. Karen Woo said.
"We’ve known for a time that this area of the artery controls blood pressure, but this is the first device that has tried to utilize that to help people with high blood pressure," Woo said.
The nerves here transmit the signals to the brain, activating the body’s natural blood pressure control mechanism.
"When the brain gets this signal, what it does is crank down that fight or flight response, and basically tells your body to relax," Woo said. "And the brain will send out signals that will in turn decrease your blood pressure."
Tim received the implant in May. Researchers are turning up the stimulation gradually, to ease him in. Already it is starting to lower his blood pressure slightly.
"I just want it to work. I want the pills gone, and I just want to go about the rest of my life, not thinking about blood pressure," Shockley said.
When the stimulator is turned onto full power, Tim will see the full benefits.
USC is enrolling patients with uncontrollable blood pressure for this clinical trial.
The device is already being widely used in Europe, and researchers here hope it will eventually be approved in the U.S.