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Reducing stroke risk through Watchman

Tiny device considered big breakthrough

SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) - A major risk for stroke is atrial fibrillation or AFib for short. Many AFib patients are treated with blood thinners but that can be dangerous for those at risk of bleeding.

The chance of surviving an AFib-related stroke is very small. As Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller explains, a device that's roughly the size of a quarter is helping prevent strokes and helping save lives. "Any clot that might form back here can't get out into the heart and then get pumped to the brain," said Commonwealth Health Cardiac Electrophysiologist Matthew Stopper, MD. He's talking about a rather small device called the Watchman which provides a big line of defense for clot-related strokes in AFib patients. "It literally just plugs the opening of this outpouching or this appendage so that any clot that might form behind it can't get out. It can't get out into the blood stream."

That is critical since roughly 90 percent of stroke-causing clots that form during AFib occur in the left atrial appendage. AFib patients are considered five times more likely to suffer a devastating stroke by one of those clots that can cut off blood supply to the brain.

Implanting the Watchman is considered a minimally invasive procedure. Dr. Stopper inserts a catheter through the groin then brings it into the upper right chamber of the heart across the thin wall between the two chambers. "We slowly deploy the device through the catheter into proper position in the left atrial appendage."

The procedure takes about an hour which Dr. Stopper says requires patients to stay overnight in the hospital. "The next day we usually do an ultrasound of the heart to make sure everything is where we left it and they would go home later that morning."

Dr. Stopper and his team have implanted the Watchman in about a dozen patients in four months. The device gives new hope to AFib patients who risk major bleeding by using blood thinners or risk a major stroke by being off them. "Getting the Watchman device seems to reduce the risk of stroke as being on a blood thinner," said Dr. Stopper who performs the procedure at Regional Hospital of Scranton.

Once the Watchman is implanted, it's considered a permanent part of the patient's body. The device is covered by insurance but only if the patient cannot tolerate blood thinners or has an occupation with an increased risk for injury such as a firefighter.


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