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Tiny Device Means Big Results for Patients with AFib

Until recently, patients who took blood thinners for atrial fibrillation (otherwise known as AFib, a common kind of irregular heart beat) faced a difficult dilemma: deal with the side effects and risk of excess bleeding, or stop taking them and have an increased chance of stroke.

However, a new FDA-approved device called the Watchman™ could be a game changer for many people living with AFib. During the hour-long procedure, a tiny device the size of a quarter is implanted into the left atrial appendage (LAA) of the heart. This one-time procedure requires only a small incision in the upper leg to allow for the insertion of a narrow tube. This tube is then used to guide the Watchman ™ to the heart, where it is permanently implanted. It does not have to be replaced and can’t be seen outside the body.

Ron Hatje of Frankfort recently had a Watchman™ implant. After being diagnosed with AFib years ago, he was placed on blood thinners.

Last year, while walking up a little hill at his son’s house, Ron’s knee swelled up. He was taken to the hospital, where doctors removed the excess fluid from around his knee. However the fluid contained blood, which was concerning. Cardiologist Roy Bliley, MD, recommended Ron quit taking blood thinners and instead have a device permanently implanted in his heart to reduce his chance of stroke. “The device decreases the chance of stroke secondary to AFib to a level comparable to blood thinners without the associated increased chance of bleeding,” said Dr. Bliley.

Understandably, Ron was concerned about undergoing the procedure. “I had never heard of the Watchman™ before,” said Ron. “I did not even know it was an option for me.”

Ron met with interventional cardiologist Ravi Ramana, MD, for an initial consultation to discuss risks and benefits of an implanted device. Dr. Ramana, explained how the Watchman™ can help to reduce stroke risk for AFib patients by closing off the LAA, (left atrial appendage) of the heart. With AFib, since the heart does not pump normally, blood can pool in the LAA, eventually forming a clot. If a clot escapes and travels to another part of the body, it can cut off blood supply to the brain, causing a stroke.

Once he decided to have the procedure, Ron underwent a special test called a TEE, or transesophageal echocardiogram. With this test, the patient receives sedation and a device called a transducer is placed in the esophagus, where it takes pictures of the heart using uses high-frequency sound waves. These images ensure there are no clots present that could rule out surgery.

About three weeks after starting testing, Ron had the Watchman™ implanted at Palos Hospital by Dr. Ramana and Dr. Martin Burke. According to Ron, the procedure was pretty uneventful and he was able to go home the next day. “People said, ‘Oh my gosh! You’re going home in a day?’” remembers Ron. “But I really felt about the same, like it was nothing, really.”

One thing that isn’t the same for Ron is the daily taking of blood thinners. He stayed on his medication for six weeks after the procedure before getting approval from his doctor to discontinue using.

Without much in the way of down time, Ron was able to quickly resume his normal routine. Regular follow up visits with his cardiologist are one of the few reminders of his heart procedure.

Call the Palos AFib Clinic at 708.923.5300 to learn if you are a candidate for this procedure.

Atrial Fibrillation & Arrhythmia Clinic

Are you a candidate?

If you answer yes to the following questions, you may be a candidate for an implanted device:

  • Do you have AFib?
  • Are you currently on blood thinners, or has your doctor recommended you take blood thinners?
  • Do you have a history of bleeding while taking blood thinners?
  • Do you have a lifestyle, occupation or condition that puts you at risk for bleeding?