WATCHMAN FLX™ Helps to Reduce Stroke in Some Patients with Atrial Fibrillation
May 2, 2022
Aiken Regional Medical Centers began offering the WATCHMAN FLX™ implant device in the fall of 2021. The minimally invasive, one-time procedure reduces the risk of stroke for some patients and can replace lifelong use of blood thinners. Now, the first Aiken Regional WATCHMAN FLX™ patients are sharing their stories.
When Lydia DelRossi, 65, felt the symptoms of a stroke come on suddenly, almost three years ago, it did not take long for her to realize she would need to get to the hospital quickly.
“It was late at night. I was sitting on my sofa in my pajamas with my dog on my lap when I noticed that I could no longer feel my right leg,” she says. “And when I moved my dog and stood up, I was shocked to find that I could not feel the entire right side of my body. It was as if someone took a marker and drew a line down the middle of my body.”
DelRossi dismissed the numbness at first, thinking it was only a pinched nerve or that she needed to drink water, so she walked around her driveway for a few minutes. But when she was unable to swallow the water, she knew something was seriously wrong, so she had her partner drive her to Aiken Regional.
“I thank the Lord every single day that we got to the hospital in time. I was diagnosed with a blood clot lodged so deeply in the left side of my brain that they told me surgery was not possible,” shares DelRossi.
Instead, she was treated with a drug known as tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), often referred to as a clot buster. It’s given to patients having a stroke caused by a blood clot, known as an ischemic stroke. If used within the first few hours after stroke symptoms appear, the tPA helps by breaking up the blood clot and restoring blood flow to the brain.
“It’s unique for a community, like Aiken, to have a hospital that offers this type of treatment,” says DelRossi, who is ingrained in the community and owns Aiken Health Insurance, Inc.
While at Aiken Regional, DelRossi was also diagnosed with silent AFib (Atrial Fibrillation), which can increase one’s risk for stroke. Patients with silent AFib do not show the typical outward signs of atrial fibrillation, such as difficulty breathing and irregular rapid heart rhythm.
Turning to WATCHMAN FLX™
“After recovering from my stroke, I went back to being Lydia [myself],” says DelRossi, who is an equestrian and very active. “I was taking blood-thinning medication that was extraordinarily expensive. It also caused me to bruise easily and to have heavier bleeding if I hurt myself. But I saw the medication as a necessary evil to avoiding future blood clots and to living my life.”
Idris Sharaf, MD, cardiologist with Aiken Regional Medical Centers and Carolina Heart and Vascular Center, warned DelRossi that falling off her horse on blood-thinning medication could have the potential to cause severe bleeding and possibly death. Dr. Sharaf referred her to Christine DeStephan Mills, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Aiken Regional Medical Centers and Carolina Heart and Vascular Center, to see if DelRossi had an option aside from lifelong blood thinners. After assessing DelRossi, Dr. Mills found her to be a “perfect candidate” for the WATCHMAN FLX™ implant.
“The WATCHMAN is a miracle,” says DelRossi, who underwent the procedure in February. “The incision was extremely small, and I was in and out of the hospital the same day with no discomfort whatsoever.” She says the procedure was very easy for her overall.
“I’m so grateful to both Dr. Sharaf and Dr. Mills. They wanted to make sure I had the chance to keep living my life fully and to get me off the blood-thinning medication, if at all possible.”
As an advocate for her health insurance subscribers, DelRossi now tries to offer the same great service to her clients, especially the ones on blood-thinning medications. She tells them to talk to Dr. Mills to see if the WATCHMAN FLX™ procedure is right for them.
“WATCHMAN can change your life,” DelRossi adds.
Living Her Life
DelRossi looks forward to continuing to ride her horse, who habitats in her backyard, alongside her grandchildren’s pony. DelRossi and her grandchildren enjoy riding together in Hitchcock Woods.
WATCHMAN FLX™ Is a “Peace-of-Mind Procedure”
“Having a stroke has always been a great fear of mine,” says Steven Myers. “Stories of people whose minds have been altered after having a stroke or just left in a horrible state, are very scary to me. The idea of the WATCHMAN procedure, preventing blood clots and dramatically lessening my risk of stroke, has offered me a great peace of mind.”
Myers was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, a type of congenital heart disease that occurs during fetal development, where the aortic valve has only two leaflets, instead of the typical three to help regulate blood flow through the body. The condition eventually caused Myers to have a narrowed aortic valve opening. He also was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm. As a result, he underwent open heart aortic valve replacement surgery in the summer of 2021. Later, when Myers was also diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, his cardiologist, Weems Pennington, MD, with Aiken Regional Medical Centers and Carolina Heart and Vascular Center, referred him to Dr. Mills for a WATCHMAN FLX™ preliminary assessment. He was deemed a good candidate for the procedure.
Ease of the WATCHMAN FLX™ Procedure
“I’ve had issues with heart palpitations and flutters for quite some time,” says Myers. “Once I got the AFib diagnosis, I was able to put it all together. The periodic fatigue, weakness and weird sensations in my heart were all due to AFib.”
Since having the WATCHMAN FLX™ procedure at Aiken Regional in February, Myers says he is feeling “better than ever, physically.”
“I went in for the procedure in the late afternoon. Once I was asleep, it took only a short time, and I recovered in the hospital overnight. I was home by the next morning,” he says. “Dr. Mills followed through with me throughout my entire stay. There was no pain involved. There wasn’t any bruising where Dr. Mills inserted the catheter. She was awesome, very sweet and professional. She just made me feel like I was in really good hands, and I was thoroughly impressed. I have nothing but positives to say about everyone at Aiken Regional.”
Moving Forward in Better Health
“When I had to go through the open-heart surgery, it really made me think about my [chance of] mortality. Having had the WATCHMAN procedure just makes me feel so much better, because I know my risk for having a stroke has been reduced tremendously,” says Myers.
“Getting off blood thinners is also a huge advantage. The monthly expense [of blood thinners] was like paying on a second mortgage. My health is probably at its best right now, considering everything I’ve gone through,” says Myers. “I’m looking forward to getting back to the gym, lifting weights and just doing whatever cardiovascular work I can to keep myself moving.”
Myers adds, “I would highly recommend the WATCHMAN procedure at Aiken Regional to anyone who needs it. Why wouldn’t you want to reduce your chance of having a stroke?”
*Individual results may vary. There are risks associated with any surgical procedure. Talk with your doctor about these risks to find out if WATCHMAN FLX™ is right for you.