New heart device decreases stroke risk

618571-304Angela Gonzales

Dr. Vijay Swarup, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the Arizona Heart Hospital, is implanting a new device in patients to reduce the risk of stroke and the need for prescription blood thinners.

The heart hospital is the only one in the state conducting clinical trials of the Watchman Left Atrial Appendage Closure Device.

Swarup had back-to-back surgeries all day Monday on patients participating in the clinical trial.

Roy Collins, a 77-year-old patient, was the first to receive the device Dec. 7, and said he is recovering nicely. The day after he received the implant, Collins was loading the washing machine when he wife came home from church. She tried to shoo him back to bed, but he said he felt fine.

He is scheduled for a check-up on Jan. 21 to determine if he can stop taking Warfarin, the anti-blood-clotting medication he’s been taking for the last five years.

The anti-coagulant medication has been a hindrance, requiring Collins to meet with his doctor once a week to check the clotting factor in his blood. Plus, he’s not allowed to eat certain foods, such as salads and broccoli.

“It’s an all-around pain in the butt,” he said. “I’m looking forward to be free of Warfarin.”

Patients like Collins with atrial fibrillation, where the upper chambers of the heart beat abnormally fast, are five times more likely to develop a stroke.

Swarup is testing the Watchman device to help patients with AF who require blood thinning medications to reduce their risk of stroke.

As a participant in the clinical trial, Collins said he doesn’t expect to pay for the implant or follow-up treatments. Between Medicare and his supplemental insurance from Dial Corp., he figures he should be covered. Collins has been retired from Dial Corp. for nearly 18 years, where he was head of engineering and safety and loss prevention before retiring.

The Watchman device is implanted in the heart via a catheter through a vein in the groin. It is designed to capture any clots that may form in the left atrial appendage, which is about the size of the thumb. In a normal heart, the appendage contracts along with the rest of the atrial muscle, allowing the blood to move in and out. But when the atrium loses its ability to contract in AF patients, blood pools in the appendage, providing an environment for blood to clot, Swarup said. These clots can then break loose and move through the bloodstream and up to the brain causing a stroke.

“The ability to close off the left atrial appendage without major surgery offers many advantages to our patients with atrial fibrillation who are at risk of having a stroke,” Swarup said. “The procedure and technology may greatly reduce the need for blood-thinning medications and decrease the number of strokes in this at-risk patient population. In the most simple of terms, it gives back to these patients a certain quality of life.”

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