Norton Heart Care is offering patients with an irregular heartbeat a surgical fix that reduces their risks for bleeding complications and strokes.
The Watchman Left Atrial Appendage Closure implant reduces the stroke risk of patients who have a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart beat too quickly and with an irregular rhythm, Norton said.
This so-called nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, or Afib, is the most common heart arrhythmia and affects between 2.7 million and 6.1 million people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“With the aging of the U.S. population, this number is expected to increase,” the CDC said.
Norton said that people with Afib account for about 20 percent of strokes, which also tend to be more often fatal and disabling in Afib patients.
Boston Scientific Corp., which owns the Watchman implant, said that atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots, which can break loose from the heart and travel to the brain, lungs or elsewhere in the body.
To reduce the stroke risk, Afib patients often take the blood thinner warfarin. However, Norton said that “long-term warfarin use is not well-tolerated by some patients and carries a significant risk for bleeding complications.”
The Watchman implant, which is about the size of a quarter, keeps blood clots from escaping the heart — though it does not cure the arrhythmia.
Tara Mudd, an advanced practice registered nurse with NHC, told IL that NHC officials began talking in earnest with Boston Scientific in the fall to get the procedure to Louisville.
The device is available in Lexington, but Mudd said she and cardiologists Dr. Vincent S. DeGeare, Dr. Kent E. Morris and Dr. D. Sean Stewart, with Norton Heart Specialists, wanted to bring the Watchman to Louisville because they had seen firsthand the devastating effect of bleeding complications from blood thinners.
Mudd said that Afib patients often have to choose the lesser of two evils: Take a blood thinner and risk potentially deadly bleeding complications — or live with untreated Afib and risk a potentially deadly stroke.
One of the NHC’s patients on blood thinners had suffered from a series of catastrophic bleeding events and lost vision in one eye, Mudd said. The patient worried about potentially life-threatening bleeding complications — and losing vision in the other eye.
That patient has received the Watchman implant and now has to worry neither about a higher stroke risk nor about bleeding complications.
Mudd said the patient said that she felt an enormous psychological relief thanks to the procedure.
“It does a lot to the patient’s quality of life,” she said.
Morris, clinical cardiac electrophysiologist with the NHC, said in a press release that the Watchman is “a groundbreaking alternative.”
NHC, part of North Healthcare, provides treatments for people with cardiovascular disease. It performed its first Watchman procedure this year and has implanted the device in 12 patients.
Boston Scientific said that the procedure usually takes less than an hour, and people can stop taking warfarin in about 45 days. The FDA approved use of the device last year. It has been used in Europe since 2005.