Heart
& Vascular

Published on June 8th, 2018

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St. Luke’s Offers Watchman Heart Implant To Significantly Reduce Stroke Risk

AFib patients now have access to a revolutionary new treatment at St. Luke’s University Health Network.

St. Luke’s recently completed its first Watchman™ device implantation for patient Patrick Kotula, 71, of Nesquehoning, in a procedure led by cardiac electrophysiologist, Steven Stevens, MD.

The Watchman is a one-time procedure offering an alternative to the lifelong use of the blood thinner warfarin, or Coumadin, for people with atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem (non-valvular Afib).

This permanent heart implant effectively reduces the risk of stroke with a 95 percent success rate — also eliminating the risk of bleeding that can come with the long-term use of warfarin and other blood thinners. What’s more, Watchman can eliminate the regular blood tests and food-and-drink restrictions that come with blood thinners.

“The Watchman has been clinically studied for over ten years and is FDA-approved as a good option for someone at risk for a stroke from atrial fibrillation,” explains Dr. Stevens. “It’s also good for patients on blood thinners who are at high risk for bleeding. Bleeding in the brain can also cause a stroke, so the Watchman would allow these patients to safely stop taking the blood thinners that could be potentially harmful.”

Patients with AFib can be five times more likely to have a stroke because the condition puts a severe strain on the heart and blood vessels, which can cause the blood clots that cut off the blood supply to the brain and cause a stroke.

The Watchman device itself is about the size of a quarter. Through a minimally invasive procedure, it is inserted through a tube that travels to the left atrium of the heart.

“The Watchman implant works because it’s positioned in the left atrial appendage, the part of the heart in which about 90 percent of stroke-causing clots form during AFib,” says Dr. Stevens. “The Watchman simply plugs the area so clots can’t form there and then dislodge to be sent off to the brain and body, causing a stroke.”

Patrick is doing well after the procedure and subsequent one-night hospital stay. He describes the recovery as “uneventful” with only small discomfort in the groin area which was caused by the small incision made for the catheter.

“I’ve had problems in the past with bleeds in the brain because of years of blood thinner use and I was always worried about the risk of falling and stroke,” explains Patrick. “But the doctors are now confident that I can cutback the use of blood thinners and brain bleeds will not be a concern in the future. I’m so grateful that I can now lead a normal active life.”

Patrick will be evaluated in a few weeks to assess results of the procedure and at that time, Dr. Stevens and his team will decide whether or not it is safe to to discontinue his anticoagulation medication.

“St. Luke’s is proud to be one of the country’s top medical centers now utilizing this procedure for AFib patients,” says Kevin McGovern, vice president of operations, St. Luke’s Heart and Vascular Center. “By being able to offer the Watchman to our patients, the Heart and Vascular Center continues to build upon the strength and depth of our electrophysiology program, which is one of the most comprehensive and well respected programs in our region.”

Dr. Stevens’ team of cardiologists, including Christopher Sarnoski, DO, Michael Durkin, MD, Darren Traub, DO and Sudip Nanda, MD, will consult with eligible patients and implant the devices in the future. “The implant success rate is 95 percent in clinical trials and 99 percent of patients who receive the device stopped their blood thinner,” continues Dr. Stevens. “Patients who had the Watchman procedure had lower rates of bleeding, brain bleeding, death, and serious stroke, which makes it a critical tool for ensuring the health and care of our cardiac patients.”


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