UnityPoint Health performs new stroke risk procedure

St. Luke’s Heart Team members from left to right: Drs. Ojas Bansal, Wassef Karrowni, Weiwei Li; Kolleen Buol , RN; Michelle Pugh, cardiac sonographer; Deb Zastrow, RN and Emily Spear, radiologic technologist. CREDIT UNITYPOINT

The heart team at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital performed the first WATCHMAN FLX Left Atrial Appendage Closure (LAAC) implant last week in Cedar Rapids.

The device implant reduces stroke risk in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation, acting as an alternative to the lifelong use of blood thinners for people with atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem (also known as non-valvular AF). Up to six million Americans are estimated to be affected by AF – an irregular heartbeat that feels like a quivering heart. Individuals with AF have a five times greater risk of stroke than those with normal heart rhythms.

The WATCHMAN FLX device closes off an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA) to keep harmful blood clots that can form in the LAA from entering the blood stream and potentially causing a stroke. By closing off the LAA, the risk of stroke may be reduced, and, over time, patients may be able to stop taking their blood thinner, such as warfarin, Eliquis, Xarelto or Pradaxa.

Cardiologists at UnityPoint Health – Heart and Vascular Institute performed the first WATCHMAN procedure at St. Luke’s in late 2016. This next-generation WATCHMAN technology has a new design to help treat more patients safely and effectively to ensure the best long-term outcomes.

“We are proud to offer our patients this potentially life-changing stroke risk treatment,” said Dr. Weiwei Li, of UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s cardiology department, in a release. “WATCHMAN FLX provides us with the opportunity to care for a wider range of patients going forward.”

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition where the upper chambers of the heart (atrium) beat too fast and with irregular rhythm (fibrillation). AF is the most common cardiac arrhythmia. Stroke is the most common complication of AF, and AF-related strokes are also more frequently fatal and disabling. In people with nonvalvular AF, more than 90% of all stroke-causing clots that come from the heart form in the LAA. The most common treatment to reduce stroke risk in patients with AF is blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin. While very effective at reducing the risk of stroke, blood thinners increase the risk of serious bleeding over time and come with certain requirements and restrictions.