State of the Heart

Watchman device frees patient from blood thinners.

Sandra Warneka came to Mercy Hospital after fainting at home.  She had severe abdominal pain and felt very weak, after losing half of her blood volume from internal bleeding.  She required blood transfusions and eventually improved.  Sandra had been taking warfarin (Coumadin), a blood thinner, because of an irregular heart rhythm condition called atrial fibrillation.  This made her very high risk for stroke, more than five times that of the general population, and because of this her doctors advised her to continue taking warfarin.

Due to her high risk for stroke and equally high risk for bleeding while taking blood thinners, her cardiologists at MHVI referred her to have a Wachman device implanted.  This device was performed by MHVI specialists Dr. Joseph Lin and Dr. Jeffrey Chambers, who inserted it through a vein in her leg and steered it up to her heart.  They deployed it to plug up a small pouch in the heart called the left atrial appendage, where blood pools and forms clots that can break off and cause strokes.  The procedure took an hour to do and Sandra was discharged home the next day.

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Six weeks later, an ultrasound evaluation (echocardiogram) confirmed that the left atrial appendage was effectively plugged up.   Sandra's own body had grown cells to cover up the Watchman device.  She was told she could stop taking warfarin.  Today Sandra is grateful that she no longer needs to choose between having a stroke and having internal bleeding.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm condition in the U.S., affecting more than 5 milliion people a year.  One of the most devastating complications of this disease is stroke.  Powerful blood thinners like warfarin can significantly reduce a patient's stroke risk, but they are not always tolerated by people, due to bleeding complications.

The Watchman device was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015 to treat people with atrial fibrillation who are high risk for strokes, who may be potentially harmed by long-term use of blood thinners.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid approved coverage for this procedure to be performed in Medicare patients in 2016.