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Published on May 18, 2017

UHS introduces 'Watchman' to curb stroke risk

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UHS Wilson Medical Center has become the first hospital in the southern region of upstate New York to begin using "Watchman," a mesh-like implant that can reduce the risk of stroke in patients with an irregular heartbeat.

The "Watchman Left Atrial Appendage Device" is a first-of-its-kind, proven alternative to long-term blood thinner therapy for stroke risk reduction in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation. The Watchman offers a potentially life-changing stroke risk treatment option which could free patients from the challenges of long-term blood-thinner use.

The first procedures using the device have just been completed at the UHS Heart & Vascular Institute by a Watchman team of highly specialized cardiologists: Waseem Sajjad, MD; Alon Yarkoni MD; Afzal ur Rehman, MD, PhD. The patients who have had the procedures are doing well.

Watchman offers an alternative to the lifelong use of blood thinners for people with the type of atrial fibrillation that is not caused by heart valve problems. It is for patients who cannot take blood thinners due to bleeding issues or who have a lifestyle that puts them at risk for bleeding.

"The permanent implant can reduce stroke risk as effectively as warfarin, the most common blood-thinning medication," Dr. Sajjad said. "Unlike warfarin, Watchman can also reduce a patient's long-term risk of bleeding. Most patients no longer have to get regular blood tests and cope with the food-and-drink restrictions that come with warfarin."

A total of 92 percent of patients are able to stop taking warfarin 45 days after the Watchman Implant, and 99 percent are able to stop within a year.

Atrial fibrillation, sometimes called "AFib," affects the heart’s ability to pump blood properly. This can cause blood to pool in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage. There, the blood cells can stick together and form a clot.

When a blood clot escapes from this area and travels to another part of the body, it can cut off the blood supply to that particular area. When this happens in the brain, it leads to a stroke. Patients with AFib are at five times greater risk of having a stroke because of ineffective blood pumping and stagnation in left atrial appendage.

In patients with AFib not caused by heart valve problems, more than 90 percent of stroke-causing clots that come from the heart are formed in the appendage. Watchman is a screen-and-net-like device that is delivered via catheter using a minimmaly invasive approach. It is designed to permanently block off the appendage and keep the clots that can cause strokes from escaping. Most patients will go home the next day.

To date, more than 20,000 Watchman procedures have been performed worldwide.

With over 10 years of clinical studies behind it, it has a proven safety record and is the only device of its kind approved for its specific use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

UHS is a regional leader in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular conditions.

In addition to the use of Watchman, the Structural Heart & Valve Program of the UHS Heart & Vascular Institute specializes in the most advanced forms of coronary stenting, cardiac ablations, cardiac device implants, aortic valve replacement, closures and ablation for congenital heart defects, and mitral valve repair.

Because of advances available today at UHS, more patients than ever before can benefit from highly specialized heart procedures designed to save lives and enhance the quality of life.