LUFKIN, TX (June 30, 2021) – St. Luke's Health-Memorial Lufkin on Monday became the first hospital in East Texas to use a new, life-changing technology designed to reduce the risk of stroke in a patient with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation (AFib).
Levi Horton, 74, proved to be an ideal candidate for the device due to requiring an alternative to long-term oral anticoagulation. Horton became the first patient to undergo the procedure using the new WATCHMAN FLX™ technology here in East Texas, according to Musa Khan, M.D., cardiac catheterization lab (CATH Lab) Medical Director.
Most people don't realize that they have atrial fibrillation without obvious, or sometimes any, symptoms. However, AFib is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, currently affecting up to six million Americans.
AFib is a condition where the upper heart chambers quiver and do not contract as they should, making it easier for blood cells to stick together and form clots in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA). The LAA is believed to be the source of nearly 90% of stroke-causing blood clots. Patients diagnosed with AFib will live the rest of their life with the condition. However, Aditya Saini, M.D., electrophysiologist at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group Heart Institute of East Texas, said the major concern comes with the patient's increased risk of stroke.
Strokes can be so debilitating and can greatly diminish a person's quality of life. "The data on this new technology indicates it is safer and minimizes complications from the procedure. Compared to the previous generation of the Watchman device, the technical advantages of the new WATCHMAN FLX™ are smoother, faster procedures, and quicker recovery times. The device is fully recapturable, is repositionable, and has more anchorage to reduce the risk of embolization and metal exposure," said Dr. Saini.
"I felt confident coming to St. Luke's Health-Memorial, and I feel great knowing that the surgery went well. I will eventually be able to transition to aspirin only type regimen instead of taking blood thinners for the rest of my life. I am grateful to my doctors and the hospital staff for the added protection against me having a stroke," said Horton.
Anticoagulant medications—otherwise known as blood thinners, such as warfarin—are commonly prescribed for AFib patients due to their high risk of developing blood clots. Clots can be well tolerated by many; however, a major bleeding event can be a constant concern. Once prescribed, patients must take anticoagulants for the remainder of their life.
"I'm really proud of the physicians, the staff, and the rest of the team in the department in reaching this milestone in a great way. It's a great technology. It helps our patients who are at risk for stroke due to irregular heartbeat but cannot take the blood thinners because of various risks involved with the blood thinners," said Dr. Khan.
Dr. Khan said having the new WATCHMAN FLX™ available locally allows patients the benefit of being able to stay closer to home for treatment. "In the case of Mr. Horton, the outcome was beautiful. It was perfectly done by a coordinating team comprised of Dr. Saini, Dr. Ilyas Khan, Dr. Venkata, and hospital staff. The procedure followed all of the recommendations, the result was beautiful, and the patient did great."
Dr. Subramanya Venkata, an Interventional Cardiology Specialist, was part of Mr. Horton's surgery team. "With this next generation of Watchman, we will be able to help a broader range of patients, and that will be for the patient's benefit."
Stroke is the most common complication of AFib, and AFib-related strokes are also more frequently fatal and disabling.
The first-generation WATCHMAN device was designed more than 15 years ago and was approved by the FDA in March 2015. The new iteration is fully recapturable and repositionable. It comes with a greater number of struts for tighter anchorage, a closed distal end to lessen the likelihood of perforation, dual-row anchors to reduce the risk of embolization, and reduced metal exposure.
In early 2018, cardiologists and electrophysiologists from the Heart Institute of East Texas implanted the area's first WATCHMAN device during a procedure in the St. Luke's Health CATH lab. Since that time, many additional local residents have benefitted from this outstanding technology.
"When we first tell patients about the WATCHMAN, they are amazed that there's a chance they could come off blood thinners. This can be very liberating for some patients," said Ilyas Khan, M.D. FACC.
In conjunction with the physicians of Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group Heart Institute of East Texas, St. Luke's Health-Memorial Lufkin continues to lead the way in introducing revolutionary technology to deep East Texas. The WATCHMAN device is a treatment option for patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation. During a minimally invasive procedure using a small catheter and under general anesthesia, the WATCHMAN is placed inside the LAA. The device significantly reduces the risk of stroke and becomes a permanent alternative to long-term blood-thinning medication. It is a one-time procedure, but the results can be life-long.
Before the procedure, patients are given an abundance of information and time to think it over. Once a decision is made, patients undergo an independent evaluation by a second cardiologist performing a transesophageal echocardiogram and a simple ultrasound to ensure they are a good candidate for the WATCHMAN procedure. A team of cardiologists develops a plan of care and schedules the procedure. The patient stays overnight at the hospital and follows up with their electrophysiologist a week later. Forty-five days later, many patients discontinue their blood thinner completely.
"Innovation and patient care are a top priority at St. Luke's Health-Memorial. We have created a top-of-the-line electrophysiology program that rivals anything you would find in Houston," said Monte Bostwick, Market President and CEO of St. Luke's Health-Memorial. "We want patients to know that they can receive the highest quality of care right here at home."
It's important to recognize the signs and symptoms of AFib, as they can vary from patient to patient. They may include:
- General fatigue
- Rapid and irregular heartbeat
- Fluttering or "thumping" in the chest
- Shortness of breath and anxiety
- Faintness or confusion
- Chest pain or pressure
If you or someone you know is demonstrating any of these symptoms, seek medical care as soon as possible. Learn more about the Heart & Stroke Center at St. Luke's Health-Memorial Lufkin.
About St. Luke's Health – Texas Division
St. Luke's Health is a fully-integrated network that provides care to the communities in Greater Houston, East Texas, and the Brazos Valley through 16 acute care hospitals and over 270 access points including numerous urgent care centers, freestanding emergency departments, and clinics conveniently located across the region. With a team of 11,000 employees and caregivers and more than 5,000 physicians, St. Luke's Health is dedicated to a mission of enhancing community health through high-quality, cost-effective care. A joint venture with Baylor College of Medicine, St. Luke's Health operates Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in the Texas Medical Center, a leading academic health center with quaternary care and advanced specialists. St. Luke's Health is part of CommonSpirit Health, a nonprofit, Catholic health system dedicated to advancing health for all people. CommonSpirit was created in February 2019 through the alignment of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health. Learn more at StLukesHealth.org.