Watchman device ends A-fib patient's troubles with blood thinners

WILKES-BARRE, PA. (WPVI) -- A few weeks ago, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney had cardiac ablation treatment for atrial fibrillation.

There are several other approaches to a-fib, including a device called Watchman.

Mike Chiampi of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., loves tinkering around.

"I love to work on some little projects in the house," Chiampi says, adding, "I do my own repairs."

Last March, a minor surgery was derailed when doctors discovered Chiampi had atrial fibrillation, or irregular heart rhythms.

"I had no symptoms and I still don't have any symptoms," he says, shaking his head in amazement.

Irregular blood flow can lead to blood clots in the heart.

"If those blood clots dislodge and travel, they can block an artery, and the most feared artery blockage is one in the brain," says Dr. George Yesenosky, a Temple Health cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology, the electrical circuitry of the heart.

Dr. Yesenosky says attempts to re-set Mike's heart rhythm weren't successful.

And after 1 blood thinner gave him nosebleeds, and another triggered a brief stroke-like episode, he became a good candidate for the Watchman, a tiny umbrella-like device..

"Above 90% of the blood clots that form from atrial fibrillation occur in a region of the heart called the left atrial appendage," says Dr. Yesenosky.

That appendage, or pocket, doesn't serve any use.

So the Watchman closes it off.

In a minimally-invasive procedure, the tiny umbrella is threaded inside a catheter, through a vein in the leg up to the left side of the heart and into the appendage.

Dr. Yesenosky actually does a lot of pre-planning, to ensure the Watchman completely blocks the pocket, to eliminate any risk of blood clots.

Watchman devices come in many sizes, because, "Not everybody's appendages are the same," says Dr. Yesenosky.

"Some look like a wind sock, some we call them a chicken wing, because it looks like a chicken wing. And others have just multiple lobes like a piece of cauliflower," notes Dr. Yesenosky.

Measuring the pocket and simulating the implant before the procedure reduces the time.

"If everything meets our criteria, then we release the device and that stays in there for the rest of the patient's life," says Dr. Yesenosky.

"Our implant success rate, it's very close to 100%," he adds.

About 6 weeks later, after a test showing the Watchman still firmly in place, Mike traded blood thinners for a daily baby aspirin.

And he was already back to normal activities.

"We had some nice weather around Christmas time. I even golfed a few times," says Mike.

He's thrilled to put his attention on projects, and not worry as much about strokes or bleeding.

Mike says another big benefit to Watchman is not paying high co-pays for brand-name blood thinners.

"When the samples were over, the copay for Xarelto or Eliquis, it's hundreds and hundreds of dollars," Mike says.

"Its prohibitive for some people and, you know, that was a little concern," he says, adding, "Paying that kind of money for a medication just seems un-American."
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