MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Wissam Gharib, M.D., Robert Hull, M.D., and Samantha Crites, D.O., cardiologists at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, are the first physicians in the state to implant the WATCHMAN Left Atrial Appendage Closure Implant, a new treatment for patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation. This novel therapy is the only treatment for patients who previously did not have an option to reduce the risk of stroke in atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition where the upper chambers of the heart (atrium) beat too fast and with irregular rhythm (fibrillation). Twenty percent of all strokes occur in patients with AF, and AF-related strokes are more frequently fatal and disabling.

“The most common treatments to reduce stroke risk in patients with AF are blood-thinning agents, to include warfarin (Coumadin), Xarelto, Pradaxa, and Eliquis. These are not well tolerated by some patients and carry a significant risk for bleeding complications,” Dr. Hull said. “Nearly half of AF patients eligible for blood thinners are currently untreated due to tolerance and adherence issues.”

People with atrial fibrillation have a five times greater risk of stroke. Atrial fibrillation can cause blood to pool and form clots in the LAA. For patients with non-valvular AF, the LAA is believed to be the source of the majority of stroke-causing blood clots. If a clot forms in the LAA, it can increase one’s risk of having a stroke. Blood clots can break loose and travel in the blood stream to the brain, lungs, and other parts of the body.

For patients with AF who are at risk for stroke but are unsuitable for blood thinners, the WATCHMAN implant is an alternative to reduce their risk of AF-related stroke. It closes off an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA) to keep harmful blood clots from forming in the LAA and potentially causing a stroke. By closing off the LAA, the risk of stroke is reduced and, over time, patients stop taking blood-thinning medication.   

Implanting the WATCHMAN Device is a one-time procedure that usually lasts about an hour. Following the procedure, patients typically need to stay in the hospital for 24 hours.

The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute’s cardiac team uses the most current diagnostic procedures to detect and evaluate mild to life-threatening heart problems in a state-of-the-art facility. The Institute’s board-certified cardiac experts include medical and interventional cardiologists, surgeons, cardiac electrophysiologists, and others who treat patients with all types of heart problems—from congenital heart issues to heart attacks.

For more information: Angela Jones-Knopf, Manager of Media Relations, 304-293-7087