Innovative Technology Reduces Stroke Risk, Alternative to Long-Term Medication Use
On May 11, 2015, a multidisciplinary team at the Cooper Heart Institute became the first in South Jersey and the Philadelphia region to implant the newly approved WatchmanTM Left Atrial Appendage Closure device, providing patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (AF) an alternative to long-term “blood-thinning” warfarin medication. The medical team successfully performed three cases on the first day.
“With today’s successful implantations of the WATCHMANTM device, we are making a major difference in the treatment of high-risk patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation,” said Janah Aji, MD, FACC, a clinical cardiologist and Director of the Cooper Cardiac Catheterization Lab, a member of the medical team involved in the first procedures. “This is transforming technology that will reduce their risk of stroke.”
People with atrial fibrillation have a five times greater risk of stroke.
“Atrial fibrillation can cause blood to pool and form clots in the left atrial appendage (LAA), a small pouch on the left side of the heart” explained Cooper cardiologist Sajjad A. Sabir, MD, co-director of the Cooper Structural Heart Disease Program. “For patients with non-valvular AF, the LAA is the source of the majority of those stroke-causing blood clots.”
The WatchmanTM device, which resembles a tiny umbrella, is inserted through a catheter in the groin area to seal off the LAA. Implanting the WATCHMANTM Device is a one-time procedure that usually takes about an hour. Following the procedure, patients typically need to stay in the hospital for 24-hours.
The device is intended to prevent clots from entering the bloodstream, where they can travel to the brain and cause strokes. For decades, most people with atrial fibrillation — an abnormal heartbeat — have been treated with blood thinners, which decrease clots in the heart.
While blood thinners can reduce the risk of stroke, they can also create complications, such as internal bleeding, according to George E. Mark, MD, a cardiologist at Cooper and a member of the medical team that performed the first cases. “Ideal candidates for the WatchmanTM would be patients for whom blood-thinning drugs are considered risky or not effective,” he said.
“At the Cooper Heart Institute, we are always looking for new therapies to meet our patient’s needs,” said Dr. Aji. “There are many patients like the ones we treated today who now have a new, proven option to reduce their risk of AF-related stroke.”
According to Dr. Aji, the Cooper Heart Institute was instrumental in the testing of the WatchmanTM device, prior to its FDA-approval. In 2006, Cooper was one of only a select group of hospitals in the United States, including the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, to take part in a pilot study of the new technology. Cooper was the first institution on the East cost to have implanted the early generation WATCHMAN device.
“We are proud to have played a role in the history of the WATCHMANTM, and now are giving patients new hope,” Dr. Aji said.
This is yet another example of some of the most advanced and innovative treatment options available to patients at Cooper.
Wendy A. Marano