MANHASSET, NY – Cardiologists at North Shore University Hospital were the first on Long Island to implant a heart device that prevents stroke in patients with an irregular heart beat known as atrial fibrillation (AFib) as an alternative to long-term blood-thinning medications.
AFib is a heart condition where the upper chambers of the heart beat too fast and with an irregular rhythm. The condition can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. More than five million Americans have AFib and those individuals have a five times greater risk of stroke and an increased risk of more serious stroke. The most common treatment to reduce stroke in patients with AFib is using blood-thinning medications such as warfarin.
“When the top chamber of the heart beats quickly blood doesn’t flow well and it can pool in an area of the heart known as the left atrial appendage (LAA). This is the most common spot where clots form and they can travel to the brain and cause a stroke,” said Apoor Patel, MD, director of complex ablations in the Department of Electrophysiology at North Shore. He performed the recently FDA-approved WATCHMAN heart implant on three patients with his colleague, Stuart Beldner, MD, associate director of electrophysiology at NSUH. The first procedure was on June 29.
The first patient to receive the WATCHMAN implant was Charline Calderon, 63, of Jamaica, Queens. Ms. Calderon was diagnosed with AFib several years ago but was unable to tolerate blood thinners, which caused gastrointestinal bleeding, resulting in her being hospitalized three times in the last year.
The one-time procedure takes about an hour and is done under general anesthesia. Following the implant, patients typically need to stay in the hospital for 24 hours. Ms. Calderon had a positive outcome and 24 hours after the procedure she said, “I feel great.” Surrounded by her husband of 45 years, Hector, and their three grandchildren, Ms. Calderon said with the device “ I will have more freedom -- no routine blood tests at the clinic, I can eat more green vegetables,” and most importantly, “it’s a lot easier knowing in my mind that my risk for stroke is very low.”
The WATCHMAN device, which looks like a miniature mesh parachute, is compressed to about the size of a quarter, deployed via a catheter in a leg vein and delivered to the heart. Once there it expands and attaches to the LAA, closing off the area to keep harmful blood clots from entering the blood stream and potentially causing a stroke. The device is made by Boston Scientific, Inc. and has been approved in more than 70 countries.
“Blood thinner medications are the mainstay of therapy for preventing stroke for patients with AFib. However, many of our patients can’t tolerate blood thinners, which can cause devastating bleeding complications,” Dr. Patel said. “We are excited to offer the WATCHMAN device as an alternative to blood thinners for patients who have an appropriate rationale to not be on these medications. We think this breakthrough device can benefit a lot of patients.”
“This advanced technology is truly life-changing for our patients in protecting against stroke,” said Dr. Beldner. “It is unusual to have a device that can replace medications,” adding, “This is the future of stroke prevention and AFib.”
The Calderons, who are both recently retired, enjoy driving their camper and spending time with their family. In recent years, they have visited the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Las Vegas as well as local campgrounds in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “Being off the blood thinners, I’m looking forward to being more relaxed on the road with my family – the next trip will be to Virginia with our grandsons.”
To contact North Shore-LIJ’s Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Services, call: (855)-HEART-11 or (516) 554-0034.
For more information about the WATCHMAN implant, please visit: www.watchmanimplant.com
About Boston Scientific
Boston Scientific is a worldwide developer, manufacturer and marketer of medical devices that are used in a broad range of interventional medical specialties. For more information, please visit: www.bostonscientific.com
About North Shore-LIJ Health System
One of the nation's largest health systems, North Shore-LIJ delivers world-class clinical care throughout the New York metropolitan area, pioneering research at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, a visionary approach to medical education highlighted by the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, and healthcare coverage to individuals, families and businesses through the CareConnect Insurance Co. Inc. North Shore-LIJ cares for people at every stage of life at 19 hospitals and more than 400 outpatient physician practices throughout the region. North Shore-LIJ’s owned hospitals and long-term care facilities house more than 6,400 beds, employ nearly 11,000 nurses and have affiliations with about 10,000 physicians. With a workforce of about 54,000, North Shore-LIJ is the largest private employer in New York State. For more information, go to www.northshorelij.com.