New implantable device could prevent strokes

FOX 32 NEWS - It’s a condition that affects millions of Americans and puts them at five times the greater risk of having a stroke.

Rush University Medical Center is now using an implantable device to help patients with this condition known as AFIB. It’s a brand new option that cuts the stroke risk and may mean patients no longer have to take life-long medications.

Sharon Clay and Rita Ashford are two of an estimated five million people in the U.S. who suffer from an irregular heartbeat known as Atrial Fibrillation, or AFIB. Both were on blood thinners to prevent stroke, and both had serious complications that left them hospitalized.

And Rita and Sharon have something else in common. They both have received an implantable device that will serve as an alternative to blood thinners and cut their risk of stroke. It’s called the ‘Watchman.’

The small device acts like a cork plugging up an area in the heart that is responsible for 90 percent of blood clots in people with Atrial Fibrillation.

Atrial Fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that can prevent the hearts chambers from allowing blood to flow freely, resulting in blood clots and eventually a stroke. That’s why patients receive blood thinners to prevent clotting. But AFIB patients, like Sharon and Rita, are at higher risk of stroke if they can't take medications. That’s where the Watchman comes in.

Here’s how the procedure works: doctors thread the watchman device through a vein in the leg to the heart and place it in an area of the hearts chamber known as the left atrial appendage. While blood thinners do their job on the entire body, the Watchman specifically targets the area where 90 percent of blood clots are believed to form.

Rita Ashford says before the Watchman, she lived in fear that she might have a stroke, but not anymore.

Doctors say patients do have to remain on the blood thinner for a short time once the implantable device is healing. But they should be able to be drug free within months.