WATCHMAN device provides sense of freedom to atrial fibrillation patients

Shaped like a small jellyfish or pumpkin no bigger than the size of a ping pong ball, the WATCHMAN device helps prevent stroke in people with atrial fibrillation (A-fib) by sealing off part of the heart where blood clots can develop and travel from the heart to the brain.

People who have A-fib are often treated with anticoagulants, which are blood thinning medications. These help prevent stroke, but also pose serious risks like excessive bleeding. If you're on blood thinners and you fall or hit your head, you could be at risk for intracranial hemorrhages, said Linda Doyle, a nurse practitioner and WATCHMAN coordinator at Advocate Condell Medical Center. Some patients who are on anticoagulants and enjoy gardening must 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 medication and return to the things they love to do.

"It makes them less fragile," Doyle said. "It can give your life back and allow you to do a little more."

The demographic most likely to benefit from a WATCHMAN device are people who are intolerable to long term anticoagulation due to a high risk or history of bleeding or are high risk for falls, said Doyle, who recently oversaw the 300th procedure at the hospital.

The procedure itself is completed in less than an hour under general anesthesia, during which cardiologists use a catheter through a leg vein and up to the heart to implant the device. And after just one overnight stay, patients can return home.

Roland "Tom" Stafford, Jr., the recipient of the 300th WATCHMAN said he was looking forward to keeping up with his grandson, go fishing and return to the shooting range.

The procedure, while typically recommended by cardiologists, was recommended to Stafford by his nephrologist, who noticed that he would heavily bleed each time a catheter had to be inserted for his dialysis. With the device, Stafford could finally get off the medication he had been on for many years, a prospect he was excited about.

"I feel great," Stafford said after his procedure while balancing a slice of cake on his stomach. "I just want to enjoy life."

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