A heart specialist at UCHealth Memorial Hospital is the first in southern Colorado to implant a new device that reduces the risk of stroke for patients with atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib or an irregular heartbeat.
Charlie Coble knew he was having trouble with an irregular heartbeat. When he got around to having it checked by a doctor he received sobering news. Charlie says "What the doctor said is ‘you’re a medical marvel at 76, and you’re stupid to run the risk (of a stroke) because of a blood clot’."
Standard treatment for AFib is generally powerful blood thinners. Charlie’s treatment included several blood thinners that presented different side effects for him, ranging from joint pain to completely zapping his energy.
Dr. Brad Mikaelian, a Cardiac Electrophysiologist at UCHealth Memorial says there are many problematic side effects that can be seen with blood thinners.
"For many of these patients it's choosing between a rock and a hard place – ‘well I don't want to run the risk of a stroke so I should be on those blood thinners, but I have had bleeding problems and so how do I choose between these two things.’"
Now there's a new treatment option available in southern Colorado called the Watchman device that allows Dr. Mikaelian to eventually get AFib patients off their blood thinners.
"Watchman is a procedure to close the left atrial appendage. The Watchman is placed through a catheter (going) through a vein in the leg up to the heart, and the device is compressed as it's delivered through the catheter. It's placed in the opening of the left atrial appendage, where 90 to 95% of clots that cause a stroke are formed. The Watchmen is delivered and assumes its natural shape as it opens up and wedges in position, which seals off the pouch and then any clots that are inside, or could form inside the pouch (stay there). Over time, the heart grows a layer of skin tissue over the Watchmen device and walls off the left atrial appendage permanently."
Charlie says the procedure has worked miracles in his life, and has him back to his favorite activity without fighting the side effects of being on blood thinners.
"The only downside to (the Watchmen procedure) was I couldn't play golf for a week, and during this period of time (before the procedure) I no longer could walk 18. It got to the point with Coumadin that I didn't even play because walking from the cart to the green was, you know - I felt like I was going to pass out. Now I can play golf. I played 11 holes the other day and I’m feeling better every day."?
Dr. Mikaelian says about 95% of people can stop blood thinners by 6 months after the procedure. There some patients that have to stay on blood thinners longer, but after one year 99% of patients are off all blood thinners and down to just a couple of aspirin a day?