Shaped like a small jellyfish or pumpkin no bigger than a ping-pong ball, the Watchman device helps prevent strokes in people with atrial fibrillation (A-fib) by sealing off a part of the heart where blood clots can grow and travel from the heart to the brain.
People with fib A are often treated with blood thinners, which are blood thinners. These help prevent strokes, but also pose serious risks like excessive bleeding. If you’re taking blood thinners and you fall or hit your head, you could be at risk for intracranial hemorrhages, said Linda Doyle, nurse practitioner and Watchman coordinator at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville. Some patients who are on blood thinners and enjoy gardening should do so with extreme caution because if they cut themselves, they could bleed for a long time. The Watchman device helps them get off the meds and get back to the things they love doing.
“It makes them less fragile,” Doyle said. “It can restore your life and allow you to do a little more.”
Those most likely to benefit from a Watchman device are those intolerable to long-term anticoagulation due to high risk or a history of bleeding or at high risk for falls, said Doyle, who has recently supervised the 300th procedure at the hospital.
The procedure itself is performed in less than an hour under general anesthesia, during which cardiologists use a catheter through a vein in the leg and into the heart to implant the device. And after just one night, patients can go home.
Roland “Tom” Stafford, Jr., the 300th Watchman recipient, said he can’t wait to follow his grandson, go fishing and get back to the range.
The procedure, although generally recommended by cardiologists, was recommended to Stafford by his nephrologist, who noticed that he bled profusely whenever a catheter had to be inserted for his dialysis. With the device, Stafford could finally quit the drug he had been taking for many years, a prospect that excited him.
“I feel great,” Stafford said after his speech while rocking a slice of cake on his belly. “I just want to enjoy life.”