Natasha Harpalani spends at least an hour most weekends cold calling funeral homes with an unusual request.
“I’ve started a nonprofit called Keeping Pace and what we do is we recycle pacemakers,” says the 17-year-old senior at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. “So I’d appreciate it if the funeral home could help me out and give me the devices.”
The typical response: “We’ll get back to you.”
The majority never do.
Still, Natasha keeps calling.
Since starting the nonprofit last December, Natasha has collected almost two dozen pacemakers. This August, she donated them to a community hospital in India.
A pacemaker is a battery-operated device hooked to your heart to help regulate the heartbeat. It costs upward of $6,000 — more than the average person in India makes in a year.
Though the Food and Drug Administration prohibits the reuse of pacemakers in the U.S., nothing forbids their being donated abroad.
Keila Crucet, director for Serenity Funeral Home & Cremation in Oakland Park, says funeral homes remove medical devices before cremation and typically toss them. So when Natasha offered an alternative, Crucet didn’t hesitate.
“Instead of discarding them, what better thing than to have them used for somebody who needs them?” she asked.
Clients sign release forms authorizing the funeral home to remove any medical devices and dispose of them at its discretion, Crucet said.
After Natasha picks up the pacemakers, she takes them to Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Jupiter to be checked for whether they have enough shelf life to be reused.
“We’re bridging the gap between people that have health care and people that don’t,” said Natasha. “We’re revolutionizing the world of medicine.”
Natasha learned about pacemakers two years ago when her grandfather, now 84, started having heart problems. He was one of the lucky few in India to be able to afford one.
But inside India’s crowded community hospitals, where only fans cool waiting patients, a pacemaker is out of the question for most.
“It’s such a disparity,” said Daniel Mascarenhas, a clinical researcher at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who also sends recycled pacemakers and other devices to India.
He said they’re safe to reuse and helped connect Natasha to Holy Family Community Hospital in Mumbai, where she donates the pacemakers.
Natasha, who plans to go to medical school, is working to expand her outreach to other countries and collect additional medical devices to recycle.
“If something so small can have such an impact, it should be available worldwide,” said Natasha.
For more information click here or visit http://projectkeepingpace.org/.
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