Stormont celebrates milestone in procedure helping A-Fib patients

Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 9:32 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - More than six million people may be at higher risk of stroke because their heart isn’t pumping their blood as well as it should.

Nancy Perry is one of them. Perry is the well-known, long-time Topeka United Way leader who has the annual Day of Caring named in her honor.

“I haven’t slowed down much,” Perry says if life since she retired. “I admit I’m 81. I love it and I feel good, but as you get older, it’s very easy to trip.”

Accidents like that were a worry for Nancy after she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and was put on blood thinners.

“All that worry, if you are on blood thinner, you do worry about it, because anybody that’s on it, if they have a cut or they fall or they hit their head, you’re really a candidate for a very bad accident,” she said of the increased bleeding risk that comes with taking blood thinning medications.

In patients with A-Fib, abnormal heart rhythms may cause the heart to not move blood through the way it should. As a result, it may pool in areas like the left atrial appendage.

Dr. Seshu Rao, a cardiologist at Stormont Vail in Topeka, says that’s where the risk lies.

“When blood stagnates, it forms a clot and the clot that’s there in the appendage can break off,” he said. “When it comes into the circulation, the path of least resistance for the blood clot is to go up and cause a stroke.”

Blood thinners have been the standard treatment to lower the risk of clots. But five years ago, Stormont Vail started using the Watchman. The device is deployed through a catheter into the appendage, blocking any clots from escaping - reducing the risk of stroke, without need for blood thinners.

Dr. Rao says Stormont saw 40 percent growth in its number of Watchman procedures last year, recently completing its 500th.

“It shows that we’re doing a lot of these procedures, so we’re comfortable with these procedures; the safety level, to the point where the complication rate is negligible; people can trust us with these procedures because we’ve done so many of them,” he said.

Nancy says she tells everyone about her experience. She now takes no blood thinners - only a baby aspirin - and feels a lot more confident moving through life.

“It’s a peace of mind really,” she said. “Now, not that I want to fall or have a cut, but I know I’m going to be okay.”

The procedure typically involves an overnight hospital stay.

The Watchman may not be for everyone. Talk to your doctor about it. You also can find more information about it by clicking here.

You also can learn about atrial fibrillation at heart.org.

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