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Published on October 31, 2016

electrocardiogram reading over illustration of man

WATCHMAN™ Procedure Offers Alternative to Medication for AFib Patients

When Julie Braaten started experiencing unusual fatigue, she assumed it was simply part of aging. She never imagined it was related to a heart condition.

After receiving a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, commonly known as AFib, she learned that her irregular and often rapid heart rate caused poor blood flow which put her at high risk for stroke. She immediately started taking blood thinners to lower her risk, but also considered the latest development in AFib treatment options.

“I was having hemorrhaging in the macular part of my eye that can cause blindness, so long-term treatment with a blood thinner wasn’t my best option,” she describes. “I was very grateful to have the WATCHMAN™ procedure available so close to home.”

Avera is the first in the region to offer the innovative WATCHMAN procedure – available exclusively at Avera Heart Hospital of South Dakota in Sioux Falls. During this minimally invasive procedure, a team of specially-trained cardiologists implant the FDA-approved WATCHMAN device into the left atrial appendage (LAA) of the heart. This one-time procedure seals off the LAA where stroke-inducing blood clots form. Over time, heart tissue grows over the quarter-sized implant to permanently close the LAA and provide a lifetime of stroke-risk reduction without the side effects of blood-thinning medications.

Julie was one of the first five patients in the region to undergo the procedure with Riyad Mohama, MD, and his team of doctors. The procedure took less than an hour and Julie was able to go home after being monitored overnight. Within 45 days she was able to stop taking blood thinners.

“Before the procedure the risk of having a stroke was constantly on my mind. Afterwards, I’ve experienced so much relief from the worry,” she says. “The procedure and recovery were very easy. Today I feel very good.”

Since she’s no longer on blood thinning medication, Julie is also able to have the corrective eye surgery she needs. “Thanks to the WATCHMAN procedure, I don’t have to choose between my heart and my eye. I’m grateful that I can have them both treated.”

Is WATCHMAN right for me?

You may be a good candidate for the WATCHMAN procedure if you:

  • Have AFib not caused by heart valve problems
  • Have received a doctor’s recommendation to take blood thinning medications
  • Can take warfarin, but need an alternative to blood thinners due to a history of bleeding or lifestyle that puts you at risk for bleeding

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