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Tri-City Performs 100th Watchman Implant Procedure for AFib

HOSPITALS: Permanent heart implant designed to reduce the risk for stroke

Tri-City Medical Center is the first hospital in North County to perform 100 implant procedures of the Watchman FLX™ Left Atrial Appendage Closure (LAAC) device.

The procedure was performed July 11 by Aaron Yung, MD, FACC, a board-certified interventional and structural cardiologist at the hospital. The device was implanted into the heart of Connie Kindel, a 67-year-old patient who has congestive heart failure and takes the blood thinner warfarin for her non-valvular atrial fibrillation (AFib).

“This latest generation device serves as a safe and effective stroke risk reduction alternative for patients with non-valvular AFib, especially those with a compelling reason not to be on blood thinners,” said Dr. Yung. “For Connie, this procedure is life-changing as it will reduce her risk for stroke and bleeding, as well as allow her to stop taking a blood thinner forever.”

More than 12 million people are expected to have AFib by 2030, according to the American Heart Association.  AFib is a quivering, rapid heart rhythm arising from the top two chambers, or atria, of the heart. It can cause blood to pool in a small pouch of the left atrium called the left atrial appendage (LAA) and form clots. Almost 90of stroke-causing clots from the heart begin in the LAA.

The Watchman FLX device is made from a light, fabric-like membrane and metal frame resembling a parachute and comes in five different sizes to adapt to a person’s heart anatomy. “During this minimally invasive, one-hour procedure, the collapsed device is deployed to the heart via a catheter inserted into the groin, similar to inserting a stent,” added Dr. Yung. “Once the Watchman is in place, it self-expands to about the size of a quarter to safely seal off the LAA to prevent blood clots from entering the bloodstream and causing a stroke.”

Most patients stay overnight and then come back for a follow-up about six weeks later. During that time, they remain on a blood thinner and low-dose aspirin while a layer of heart tissue begins to grow over the device to secure it in place and form a barrier against blood clots. Based on their doctor’s recommendations after closely monitoring the tissue growth for three to six months, patients can then stop taking their oral anticoagulants (OACs), which can increase the risk of serious bleeding from injuries due to a fall or stomach and intestinal problems if used long-term.

“I am so grateful that Tri-City Medical Center offers this procedure and feel that it has given me a new lease on life and peace of mind,“ remarked Mr. Kindel, who was being discharged from the hospital July 12. “Tri-City is one of the best hospitals I’ve ever been to and the only one I will come to.”

The first Watchman implant was performed on Oct. 16, 2020 at Tri-City. “Since then, the multidisciplinary team consisting of interventionalists, electrophysiologists, cardiac imaging specialists, nurses and staff has worked hard to make this milestone possible and to transform the lives of those living with AFib,” said Tri-City President and CEO, Gene Ma, MD, FACEP.

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