HARTFORD, Conn. — Cardiac electrophysiologists affiliated with Trinity Health Of New England successfully performed the first the WATCHMAN implants at Saint Francis Hospital this week. WATCHMAN is a one-time, minimally invasive procedure for people with atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart-valve problem (also known as non-valvular AFib) who need an alternative to blood thinners.
“The long-term use of blood thinners can be problematic for patients with non-valvular AFib who suffer a bleed or have a fall. With the WATCHMAN implant, they can safely stop their blood thinners,” said Dr. Joseph Dell’Orfano, regional director of Electrophysiology for Trinity Health Of New England. “The availability of this procedure is exciting news not just for Hartford-area cardiac patients, but for cardiac patients throughout the region as this procedure is part of our Regional Structural Heart Program.”
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, affects the heart’s ability to pump blood normally and can cause blood to pool in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage, or LAA, where blood cells can stick together and form a clot. When a blood clot escapes from the LAA and travels to another part of the body, it can cut off the blood supply to the brain and cause a stroke.
In people with AFib not caused by a heart-valve problem, more than 90% of stroke-causing clots that come from the heart are formed in the LAA, so closing off this part of the heart is an effective way to reduce stroke risk. The WATCHMAN implant fits into the patient’s LAA, permanently closing it off to keep blood clots from escaping.
WATCHMAN is implanted into the patient’s heart in an hour-long procedure. During the procedure, the cardiac electrophysiologist makes a small puncture in the patient’s upper leg and inserts a narrow tube, as done in a standard stent procedure. The cardiac electrophysiologist then guides the WATCHMAN device into the left atrial appendage of the heart. The procedure is done under general anesthesia, and patients typically stay in the hospital overnight and leave the next day.
“The WATCHMAN implant procedure is the latest example of the expansion of our cardiovascular services, an expansion that aligns with a larger effort,” said Dr. Richard Soucier, regional cardiology physician executive for Trinity Health Of New England and chief of Cardiology at Saint Francis Hospital. “With input from our network of providers, we are building an infrastructure where all patients will have access to all Trinity Health Of New England programs and services. This standardization approach, easing access from primary care all the way to the highest level of interventional care, will allow our patients access to the most modern cardiovascular interventions and procedures with a focus on population health and wellness.”