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St. Francis Medical Center First in Mercer County to Offer Watchman Implant

9/10/2018

Innovative device reduces risk of blood clots, stroke

TRENTON, NJ—St. Francis Medical Center is the first hospital in Mercer County to offer patients with atrial fibrillation (afib) the Watchman implant. The device prevents clot formation in the heart from traveling through the bloodstream and blocking a blood vessel in the brain that could cause a stroke.

 

This advanced technology can be an important alternative for patients affected by afib, which causes an irregular heart rhythm. Doctors often prescribe a blood thinner to prevent clots from forming. Despite its proven efficacy in reducing stroke, blood thinners are not well-tolerated by some patients and carry a significant risk for bleeding complications.

“This is exciting news for afib patients,” said Christina Wjasow, MD, electrophysiologist and Medical Director, Electrophysiology Laboratory, St. Francis Medical Center. “The Watchman is the only procedure that has proven to be equal to blood thinners for stroke reduction. After the procedure, most patients over time are able to stop taking a blood thinner.”

To implant the Watchman, doctors thread a catheter through a vein in the patient’s leg to the heart. A tiny hole is made through the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart so the catheter can reach the left atrium of the heart. The device, which looks like a small, mesh parachute a little larger than a half dollar, is then lodged in place. The procedure takes about an hour and includes an overnight stay in the hospital.

“Patients with afib can have as high as a 30 to 40 percent risk of stroke over a five-year period,” said Dr. Wjasow. “This device can change their lives.”

Within about a month after the procedure, a layer of tissue grows over the implant, securing it in place closes off part of the heart where clots in afib patients often form. The hole in the heart wall heals quickly as well. Patients take a blood thinner and aspirin for six months following the procedure. After that, only a daily aspirin is needed.

About 2.7 million Americans have afib, according to the American Heart Association. About 15 to 20 percent of people who have strokes have afib. Stroke is frequently disabling and can be fatal.

In people with afib, the electrical signal that normally starts the heartbeat short circuits, causing the heart to beat irregularly. The atria (the two upper chambers) quiver rather than squeezing, resulting in very slow blood flow. With slow blood flow, the blood tends to pool and then clot in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage.

“When these blood clots dislodge from the left atrial appendage, 75 percent of the time they go to the brain and cause a stroke. Brain tissue dies, leading to major disability or death,” said Dr. Wjasow. “If the appendage is sealed off, clots may still form, but you don’t have to worry about them getting out.”

The implant isn't right for everyone, so it's important for patients to discuss the WATCHMAN™ procedure with their doctor, advises Dr. Wjasow.

St. Francis Medical Center is noted for its Cardiac Surgery and Stroke programs. The hospital was recently recognized by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With The Guidelines®-Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award for the second year in a row. The award recognizes the hospital’s long-term commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines based on the latest scientific evidence. St. Francis was the first accredited Stroke Center in Mercer County.

“We are very pleased to be able to offer this device to the Mercer County community,” said Dr. Wjasow. “This is a very important technological advance that will benefit the people of our area in the prevention of stroke. It is part of St. Francis’ commitment to cardiac care to offer effective treatment options that improve the day-to-day lives of our patients. The Watchman implant implant helps us do that.”

A catheter delivers the Watchman to the heart. The Watchman seals off the left atrial appendage, preventing any possible clots from escaping and causing a stroke.

About WATCHMAN™
The WATCHMAN™ implant is a permanent implant designed to close the left atrial appendage in the heart in an effort to reduce the risk of stroke. The WATCHMAN™ was approved by the Food & Drug Administration in 2015 and has been implanted in more than 10,000 patients in 70 countries around the world. For more information about the Watchman implant, please visit: www.bostonscientific.com.

About St. Francis Medical Center
St. Francis Medical Center, a member of Trinity Health, is an acute care teaching hospital and the only facility in Mercer County with a state-issued certificate of need to perform cardiac surgery. St. Francis features regional services including the Heart Hospital, a Regional Cancer Center, a Sleep Disorder Center and an extensive Community Outreach Program. St. Francis’ partner in care is LIFE St. Francis (Living Independently For Elders), a program for the all-inclusive care of the elderly. St. Francis Medical Center has served the South Jersey community for nearly 150 years. For more information, visit www.stfrancismedical.org.

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