'Devil' gets a pacemaker

A Tasmanian Devil is recovering well after being implanted with a pacemaker to treat a heart condition.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA (Reuters) - Nick was sick. So it went for a routine check-up - that's when doctors diagnosed it with cardiac conduction disorder, a heart condition which causes abnormally slow heart beats.

Doctors decided it needed surgery, making Nick the second Tasmanian Devil on record to be implanted with a pacemaker.

Cardiologist Dr Joao Orvalho said: "Its heart beats were too slow and now the pacemaker is going to actually take over its heart and is going to determine when to pace fast or slow depending on its activity."

While pacemakers are routine in humans, implanting one in a marsupial known for screeching, biting, and releasing a pungent odour proved challenging.

"Typically when a pacemaker is placed, it's placed within the neck area, but because of conformation and the shape of the neck that's not possible. So instead we go into the abdomen, go through the diaphragm and the suture the lead or electrode to the heart and then implant the actual generator in the abdominal cavity," said Dr Fred Pike, a surgeon at the UC Veterinary Medicine Centre.

The surgery took place in May at UC Davis in California. Three weeks later, Nick is back home at San Diego Zoo.

"So far everything looks really good. Its heart rate is consistent at 110 set by our cardiologist and that's maintaining a normal blood pressure," added Dr Pike.

While Nick has a clean bill of health, its species is on the brink of extinction. A contagious cancer called facial tumour disease has ravaged the devil population in the wild. The disease kills every animal infected and has no cure.