A cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital was the first in Illinois to successfully place the WATCHMAN Left Atrial Appendage Closure (LAAC) device in a patient after its recent approval by the FDA. The WATCHMAN device is designed to prevent stroke in those with non-valvular atrial fibrillation as well as help patients discontinue the long-term use of oral blood thinning medication.
The successful implantation was performed by Bradley Knight, MD, medical director of the Center for Heart Rhythm Disorders at Northwestern Medicine’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, with assistance from Albert C. Lin, MD, associate director of cardiac electrophysiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Knight also researched the WATCHMAN device in several clinical trials prior to its FDA approval. Northwestern Memorial Hospital was one of the first ten hospitals in the United States where a commercial WATCHMAN procedure was performed.
“The new WATCHMAN LAAC device is a breakthrough option for our patients with atrial fibrillation to reduce their risk of stroke. It should be considered as an alternative to blood thinners for patients who have an indication for blood thinners but who have reasons, such as bleeding problems, to want another option,” said Knight, who is also the Chester C. and Deborah M. Cooley Distinguished Professor of Cardiology and director of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship Program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “For patients with atrial fibrillation, this is a minimally-invasive, potentially life-changing treatment option to prevent stroke risk.”
An estimated five million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation, or an irregular or quivering heartbeat. Those with atrial fibrillation are at an increased risk of stroke. Atrial fibrillation can cause blood to pool and form clots in an outpouching of the heart’s upper left chamber called the left atrial appendage. The left atrial appendage is believed to be the source of the majority of stroke-causing blood clots for patients with atrial fibrillation. Blood clots can break loose and travel in the blood stream to the brain, lungs, and other parts of the body, causing a stroke or other major problems.
In a procedure that lasts about an hour under general anesthesia, the WATCHMAN device is inserted using a catheter through a vein on the patient’s upper leg and then guided to the heart’s left side. The device is then placed into the entrance of the left atrial appendage, where it opens up like an umbrella, sealing off the area. By closing off the left atrial appendage, the risk of stroke is reduced and, over time, patients may be able to stop taking blood thinners.
Patients are expected to stay overnight in the hospital following the procedure. Over time, heart tissue grows over the WATCHMAN device, permanently sealing off the left atrial appendage. Most patients discontinue blood thinners 45 days after the procedure, and more than 99 percent of patients in a clinical trial were off blood thinners one year after the WATCHMAN implant.
In the past decade, Knight participated in two separate clinical trials, PROTECT AF and CAP 2, of the WATCHMAN device that led to its FDA approval. The WATCHMAN clinical program consisted of five total studies, the most studied of any left atrial appendage closure device.
“There are very few devices that can show such a dramatic impact in reducing disabling stroke,” said Knight, “We have been part of WATCHMAN experience since it’s days as a clinical trial and are excited to be only one of a select group of heart centers nationally that offers our patients this breakthrough treatment for reducing stroke risk.”
The WATCHMAN device is now available at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, but may not be appropriate for all patients. Patients should discuss all options with their physician to determine the best treatment for their condition. To make an appointment, visit the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at heart.nm.org or call (312) NM-HEART.
Northwestern Medicine’s cardiology and heart surgery program, the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, ranked 13th nationally in the 2014-15 U.S. News and World Report “Best Hospitals” list released in July 2014. For the seventh consecutive year, the report ranked the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute the top heart program in Chicago, Illinois and the Midwest.