Watchman patient Barbara Reader: 'No blood thinners - less worry'
"My life is no different than before I had the Watchman implant except I’m missing two things -- a blood-thinner pill and constant worry about having a stroke," says Barbara Reader, a cardiology patient, gardener, world traveler, voracious reader and 35-year volunteer at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.
In April 2015, Reader, 77, found out she had an irregular heartbeat during a routine doctor visit. “I was scared to death," says Reader. “I had never had any heart problems.” She was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation or AFib, a condition where the upper chambers of the heart atrium beat too fast and irregularly. This causes blood to pool and possibly form clots in a part of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA). Blood clots can travel to the brain, cut off the blood supply and cause a stroke. The Watchman implant closes off the LAA to stop these harmful blood clots from leaving the heart. It gives people with AFib an option to taking life-long blood-thinning drugs.
Reader found out about the Watchman implant from an ad in a local magazine. The ad showed a quarter-sized device that looked like a little parachute. She wrote down the phone number. “It said it was an option to blood thinners so I showed my husband and asked what he thought,” says Reader. "He looked and said 'Honey, I trust your intuition,' so I called my cardiologist the next day."
In 2015, Legacy Emanuel Medical Center became the first hospital in Oregon to offer the Watchman implant for patients with non-valvular AFib. Reader took blood thinners for her AFib, but experienced side-effects. “It affected my gums and teeth and that didn’t make me or my dentist happy," says Reader. “Plus, I didn’t like being tied to taking a daily drug and living with the fear of having a stroke."
Amish Desai, M.D., FACC, medical director of the Legacy Health Structural Heart Services, participated in 10 years of clinical trials leading up to the FDA approval for the Watchman implant. He teaches other cardiologists how to implant the device and to date, he’s done over 95. This volume has landed Legacy Emanuel in the top 10 hospitals in the U.S. for implanting the Watchman. According to Dr. Desai, patients who benefit from a Watchman are those with AFib who may experience bleeding complications from blood thinners or want to consider an alternative to these medications.
Reader’s cardiologist ordered a trans-esophageal echocardiogram test to assess how well her heart works. She passed and was scheduled for the procedure, which would take about an hour and require and overnight hospital stay.
"I felt so good later that day that I could have gone home," says Reader. “I had no pain or discomfort."
Before getting released from the hospital, Reader had an echocardiogram to make sure the Watchman implanted properly. She did have to remain on blood thinners for 45 days as a precautionary measure.
"I just adore Dr. Desai," she laughs. “He took the time to meet with me, to explain the Watchman implant, the procedure and even showed me the actual device,” says Reader. "He did not try to sell it to me; he told me to think it over and let him know if it was right for me. Happily it was and a few weeks after seeing that ad, I got the greatest gift - peace of mind."
According to Boston Scientific, the maker of the Watchman, one out of three people with AFib will have a stroke. Treatments, like blood thinners are available, however, these drugs affect the whole body. The Watchman device is implanted in the LAA and doesn’t require open heart surgery. A surgeon guides the Watchman implant via a catheter through the vein in the upper leg and into the left side of the heart. Once there, it is released and it seals off the LAA. Over time, heart tissue grows over the Watchman creating a permanent seal.
For more information about Legacy’s Structural Heart Services, click here. For media inquiries contact: Vicki Guinn, firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-413-2939. Photo: Vicki Guinn. Video: Corky Miller.