Patient Care

UR Medicine Cardiologists First in Region to Use Device to Reduce Stroke Risk

Jun. 7, 2016
Watchman device designed for people with atrial fibrillation

UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital is first in the Finger Lakes region area to offer people a new minimally invasive therapy for atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disorder, to prevent strokes.

A team of interventional cardiologists and electrophysiologists implanted the Watchman, a lightweight device, into the left side of an aging woman’s heart to eliminate stroke risk. The procedure took place on June 2.

About five million people in the United States suffer from atrial fibrillation (also called AFib), which occurs when the upper and lower chambers of the heart stop beating in harmony. Instead, the upper chambers beat irregularly and stop moving blood through and out of the heart.  When this occurs, blood clots are likely to form in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA). The LAA is about the size of a thumb and looks like a small pouch near the top of the heart. Blood clots can break loose from the LAA and travel to the brain, lungs and other parts of the body, causing a stroke. The Watchman implant is designed to stop clots from leaving that area of the heart.

Atrial fibrillation is the cause of about 20 percent of strokes, which can be devastating and costly to individuals and families.

“This is a significant advance in care for people with atrial fibrillation who are unable to use blood thinners. I’m pleased to be able to provide this new procedure for patients and be a part of the area’s team that is always at the cutting edge of care,” said cardiologist Thomas Stuver, M.D., of UR Medicine Heart and Vascular’s Rochester Cardiopulmonary Group. “Some physicians believe this could become one of the most common heart procedures in the nation.”

Cardiologists make a small incision in the groin to insert a catheter into a vein. Using real-time imaging, the team feeds the device through the body, into the right and left chambers of the heart.  Once at the left atrial appendage, the cardiologists expand the Watchman device to cover the gap and eliminate clots from escaping that area. The procedure takes about 45 minutes and recovery typically takes about 24 hours.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Boston Scientific Corp.’s Watchman in 2015, after extensive clinical studies. About 15,000 people in the U.S. have received it.

UR Medicine has a rich history of leadership in heart care and the largest team of cardiologists providing comprehensive care in Rochester and throughout the Finger Lakes region. Using a collaborative, team-based approach, UR Medicine Heart and Vascular offers advanced technology and procedures only available at Strong Memorial Hospital, including transcatheter aortic valve replacement, mechanical assist devices and heart transplantation.