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Published on November 14, 2016

Mechanical Device Can End Need for Blood Thinners in Some People

Cone Health begins using the Watchman to lower risks of stroke.

Billy Mitchell of Graham can’t wait to get back to church. He, like a few other members of his congregation, takes blood thinners. “I’ve talked to a lot of people. We all hate them,” says Mitchell of the blood thinners. But thanks to a bit of technology at Cone Health Heart and Vascular Center, Mitchell hopes to soon be off of them. Last Thursday, Mitchell was given a Watchman™.

Mitchell has a form of irregular heart beat called AFib. Because of that, he is five times more likely to have a stroke. Most people with AFib take blood thinners to reduce the chances that a blood clot will form in their heart and travel to their brain, causing a stroke. But while most people do well taking blood thinners, some don’t. “They make my body ache. I feel like I am sore all over,” the retired roofer says.    

The Watchman is a small mechanical device that is inserted through a major blood vessel in the groin. It is threaded through the aorta and into a part of the heart called the left atrial appendage. There it is opened and used to seal that small area from the rest of the heart. Research finds that 90 percent of stroke-causing blood clots in people with AFib form in that area.

“We have very good data that shows that blood thinners in patients who can take them is the right thing to do,” says Cone Health Medical Group cardiologist James Allred, MD. “But there are many reasons why the device makes sense in some people. They can’t maintain stable drug levels with blood thinners, they have side effects that can’t be controlled or they have lifestyles that are not suitable for anti coagulation – construction workers or motorcycle riders for example.”

The Watchman may be an answer for those individuals. It has been shown to be as effective as the most commonly prescribed blood thinner and should lower the risk of blood clots for the rest of the patient’s life.

Cone Health Heart and Vascular Center is one of a handful of places in the state to offer the Watchman technology. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half to implant. The patient spends one night in the hospital and goes home. Recovery takes about a week.

So Mitchell will soon head back to church and to his friends. “I’m going to tell them all about this,” he says.

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