The 'Watchman’ gives local heart patients new chance at life

Device eliminates stroke risk, need for blood thinners

New surgery gives heart patients chance to get off blood thinners.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Cardiologists at Baton Rouge General performed a first of it’s kind, heart implant surgery in Baton Rouge on Thursday.

Cardiologists Robert Drennan, Garland Green and Lance LaMotte performed the minimally invasive procedure, to insert the "Watchman” device.

"The Watchman device is intended to be a lifetime device to protect patients against stroke,” said Dr. LaMotte, interventional cardiologist at Baton Rouge Cardiology Center.

THE WATCHMAN

  • Permanent heart implant
  • Effectively reduces the risk of stroke 
  • Can eliminate need for blood thinners

The Watchman is for a specific patient with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat.

“It’s a very common rhythm disturbance but the big burden with medical care is the association with stroke," said Dr. LaMotte.

The usual treatment for atrial fibrillation is a blood thinner, taken daily.

“There’s a lot of restrictions for folks who have blood thinners especially here in southern Louisiana. A lot of folks are employed in the plant industries, the oil industries, construction industries, off shore,” said Dr. Green. interventional cardiogloist at BRG’s Cardiovascular Institute of the South. “You bleed with a blood thinner, it can be much more tragic.”

There are also several quality of life challenges when a patient is dependent on blood thinners, like dietary restrictions, having to do frequent blood work and having to take a pill every day.

“Patients are often committed to a lifetime of blood thinners, which can pose a problem in patients who are active, or elderly, who may have some issues with being on long term blood thinners," said Dr. LaMotte.

The cardiologists say the Watchman gives those patients their life back thanks to the procedure which takes about an hour.

“It’s a very big team effort,”said Dr. Drennan, electrophysiologist at Cardiovascular Institute of the South.

An anesthesiologist is needed to put the patient to sleep so the patient is as still as possible for the cardiologists to cut a precise hole in the heart in a specific spot.

“The procedure itself is done through a single access point through a vein in your leg," said Dr. Drennan.

The three cardiologists work together, watching on an x-ray, moving the long catheter through the body to the heart.

“We enter the heart without opening the chest," said Dr. LaMotte. “The device is implanted in what we call the left atrium appendage which is sort of a little chamber off the side of the heart where these clots like to develop.”

Once the device is deployed, it essentially becomes a part of the patient.

“It’s like when you get a splinter, you kind of grow a layer of tissue over the top of it and at that point it will fully enclose, and dam off that extra space in your heart," explained Dr. Drennan. “It gives you that preventative measure of keeping blood from coagulating and clotting in that appendage.”

"This device is meant to close off the part of the heart where these clots tend to develop,” said Dr. LaMotte.

The Watchman will last a lifetime and once the device is healed, the patient can be taken off of blood thinners, giving them a lifetime of benefits.

Atrial fibrillation is not just limited to elderly patients. Any patient that is deemed at risk for a stroke qualifies for the Watchman.

“If one is deemed to have a high enough to be at risk for blood thinners, then they’re certainly a candidate for the device,” said Dr. LaMotte.

Recovery time is typically an overnight stay. Most patients are cleared to go home the following day.

“Within 45 days, 90 percent of patients who have this surgery are able to stop taking blood thinners, and that is truly life-changing for them,” said Dr. Drennan.

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