Wheeling Hospital now implanting latest Watchman FLX device

WVU Heart and Vascular Institute’s structural heart team at Wheeling Hospital is now performing implants of the next-generation Watchman FLX device on patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) that is not associated with a heart valve problem. The left atrial appendage closure technology is the only FDA-approved device for the reduction of stroke risk in qualifying patients with the condition.

Wheeling Hospital is the first and only in the region to offer the Watchman FLX, built on the most studied and implanted LAAC device in the world. This device provides an alternative to the lifelong use of blood thinners for people with AF who cannot otherwise tolerate blood thinners due to persistent bleeding or high risk of bleeding.

Members of the Watchman team are: Christopher Allen, M.D., Chief of Cardiology; Deepak Hooda, M.D.; Michael Campsey, M.D.; Christopher Kolibash, M.D.; and Ramesh Daggubati, M.D.

“As a structural heart team we are grateful for the continued support provided by the Wheeling Hospital administration,” said Campsey, who also is Wheeling Hospital’s chief medical officer. “The success of this program is about more than just one or two physicians who are skilled at doing procedures. A high quality program like the one here at Wheeling Hospital requires a solid foundation of leadership and commitment by everyone involved.”

Up to 6 million Americans are estimated to be affected by AF – an irregular heartbeat that feels like a quivering heart. People with AF have a five times great risk of stroke that those with normal heart rhythms.

In addition to the Watchman FLX, Wheeling Hospital offers the first generation Watchman, a stroke risk reduction therapy for patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) who cannot tolerate lifelong use of the blood thinners such as warfarin, apixaban or rivaroxaban. This week, the hospital completed its 101st Watchman implant.

“Implanting the Watchman can keep blood clots from entering the blood stream and potentially causing a stroke, and has been shown to be as effective in doing so as traditional blood thinners.”

The Watchman FLX device closes off an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA) to keep harmful blood clots 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 medication. The next-generation technology has a new design to help treat more patients safely and effectively to ensure the best long-term outcomes.

“Building upon the well-established Watchman technology, the Watchman FLX device serves as a safe and effective stroke risk reduction alternative for patients with non-valvular AF who have a compelling reason not to be on blood thinners,” Campsey said. “I’m proud to be able to offer the new Watchman FLX implant at Wheeling Hospital as it provides the patient a potentially life-changing stroke risk treatment and will allow us to treat a broader range of patients going forward.”

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 cause of cardiac arrhythmia. Stroke is the most common complication of AF, and AF-related strokes are almost more frequently fatal and disabling. In people with non-valvular 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.

The Watchman and the Watchman FLX are indicated to reduce the risk of stroke or systemic embolism that could arise from the LAA in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation when a blood thinning medicine is recommended by their physician.  To qualify for one of the devices patients should have an appropriate rationale to seek a device alternative to a blood thinning medication.