Methodist Healthcare November 12, 2015

Methodist Heart is the first private hospital in South Texas to offer heart disease patients a breakthrough option for reducing stroke risk and an alternative to long-term use of blood-thinners.  More than two million people in the U.S. are estimated to be on blood thinners.  Not only is the new technology of the WATCHMAN™ Left Atrial Appendage Closure (LAAC) Implant relieving patients of ongoing finger pricks and medication complications, but the constant fear of a stroke will be a thing of the past.

“For patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (abnormal heartbeat) who are seeking an alternative to warfarin, the WATCHMAN™ Implant offers a potentially life-changing stroke risk treatment option which could free them from the challenges of long-term warfarin therapy,” said Jorge Alvarez, MD, who performs the procedure at Methodist Heart.

Julia Poole, 75-year-old cardiac patient from Northeast Methodist Hospital, a campus of Methodist Hospital, has dealt with heart disease all her life.  In 1996 she had open heart surgery.  Seven years ago she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or a type of irregular heart beat than can lead to stroke.  “I think I have been on every blood thinning medication that there is,” she said. “At this age, fear of a stroke is always there.”

“Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart condition where the upper chambers of the heart (atrium) beat too fast and with irregular rhythm (fibrillation),” explains Kiran Jayaram, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist.  “AFib is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, currently affecting more than five million Americans.” AFib can cause blood to pool and form clots in the area of the heart called the left atrial appendage closure (LAAC).  Twenty percent of all strokes occur in patients with AFib, and AFib-related strokes are more frequently fatal and disabling.  The most common treatment to reduce stroke risk in patients with AFib is blood-thinning warfarin medication. 

Unfortunately for Poole, she began experiencing medication side effects, and when she fell last year, she lost so much blood that she needed four transfusions. Her cardiologist suggested the WATCHMAN™ procedure, which she had a few months ago. The WATCHMAN™ Implant closes off the left atrial appendage to keep harmful blood clots from the LAA from entering the blood stream and causing a stroke.   The tiny umbrella-shaped device is inserted through a catheter in the groin area.

“It was over before I knew it, and I was only in the hospital overnight,” she said. “Now my heart is at ease because I don’t have to worry about having a stroke.  The procedure is so new that I find myself educating nurses about it when I go in for check-ups.”

Best of all, now that she is free from constant finger pricks and blood thinner complications, she has lots more time to go fishing with her grandson.  She is a trophy-winning member of the San Antonio Bass Club.