Watchman Implant May Reduce Risk of Atrial Fibrillation-Related Stroke

Your heart may flip flop, miss a beat, and you may get lightheaded and weak.

If that’s the case, you may be suffering from a common but sometimes deadly problem called atrial fibrillation.

Right now there are about 7 million people in the United States living with AFib, and while it can often be controlled, it’s usually imminent death when stroke hits.

But now Saint Joseph Health System, along with the South Bend Clinic, has introduced a breakthough treatment that is saving patients from devastating strokes.

“Stroke from atrial fibrillation is usually large, devastating,” Dr. Naseer Nasser explains. “The chance of recovery is very small, with the majority of patients after left with disability.”

He explains in layman’s terms what happens during atrial fibrillation. “What happens in AF is the top and bottom part of the heart are not talking to each other.”

Mary Lou Staples knew that all too well. She became one of his patients after years of high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and a trip to the hospital. “In January I got out of breath. I went to the hospital and thought I had pneumonia.”

Nasser thought she would be the perfect candidate for the Walkman procedure.

Since introducing it in March, Nasser’s team now performs 12 to 15 Watchman procedures a month, compared to the national average of 2 to 3 a month.

We know the top and bottom part of the heart are not talking to each other, and while most doctors prescribe medications to keep the heart in sync and blood thinners to prevent stroke, Nasser thinks treatment of the condition needs to be taken more seriously. “So if there is a way to sync the heart rate, we should try.”

The Walkman does that in a pretty simple, minimally invasive procedure. Nasser explains that he goes up through the groin as a way to get the heart in rhythm and prevent bloods clots. “It plugs the chamber at the top of the left part of the heart where most of the clots form. If we prevent the blood from going to that chamber by having the Watchman device, we are reducing the risk of stroke.”

After 45 days, most patients are off their blood thinners, which can cause brain bleeds.

How did Mary Lou feel after the procedure? “It works really fine. Oh my yes, yes definitely. I’ve got a lot to see, a lot to do yet.”

And while Watchman is not widely used yet, Nasser believes this will become the gold standard. “It definitely transformed the treatment of atrial fibrillation.”

I asked Nasser if this is saving lives. “It is, and the reason it’s lifesaving is because it prevents life-threatening bleeding,” he explains.

The Watchman procedure is covered by insurance, and most patients get off their blood thinners.