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Wheeling Hospital Performing New Procedure to Sharply Decrease Chances of Stroke

October 17, 2018

WHEELING, W.VA. – Wheeling Hospital recently became the region’s first hospital to offer a new stroke risk reduction therapy for patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) who cannot tolerate lifelong use of the blood thinner warfarin.

Currently, it is estimated that 33 million people suffer from AF in the U.S. Patients with AF, not caused by a heart valve problem, have a five times greater risk of stroke than those with normal heart rhythms.

AF, commonly known as an irregular heartbeat, occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat in a chaotic and sometimes fast manner. This leads to incomplete emptying of the top chambers and stagnation of blood in the left atrial appendage where clots are prone to form. Traditional treatment included placing the patient on a blood thinner to decrease that stroke risk.

“Clinical trial and registry data clearly show that there is a subset of patients with atrial fibrillation in whom warfarin use is associated with an increased risks of bleeding. In fact, many patients with AF are not treated with a blood thinner because of the fear of bleeding. The alternative now offered at Wheeling Hospital is the implantation of the WATCHMAN left atrial appendage occlusion device,” said Dr. Triston Smith, an interventional cardiologist and clinical director of the hospital’s structural heart program.

“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.”

Patients are prescribed warfarin if they have a blood clot present, have a high risk of clots forming in the heart or have a mechanical artificial heart valve that is prone to forming clots.

“Since warfarin is a blood thinner, taking it means the patient’s blood won’t clot as easily. If they get cut, they may bleed heavily. These patients are also at risk of spontaneous internal bleeding and traumatic bleeding from falls, especially since AF is usually seen in the elderly population. Other patients cannot take blood thinners due to occupational or lifestyle constraints. They can also benefit from this therapy,” Smith explained.

The WATCHMAN is a small permanent device, about the diameter of a quarter, and resembles a parachute. It is implanted through a catheter placed in the femoral vein in the upper thigh. Under X-ray and echocardiography guidance, the physician then places the device in the appropriate area in the heart, closing off left atrial appendage.

The procedure is done under general anesthesia and takes about an hour. Patients normally remain in the hospital overnight and are discharged the following day.

“Wheeling Hospital is known as the area’s ‘heart hospital,’ starting in 1975, when we opened our Cardiac Cath Lab, and then in 1994 performing our first open heart surgery. We’ve come a very long way since then, and today our cardiac team is performing even more amazing life-altering and life-saving procedures. We’re very proud of their eagerness and dedication to expanding our services to enhance patient care,” said hospital CEO Ron Violi.

The physician team performing the WATCHMAN device implantation at Wheeling Hospital includes interventional cardiologists Drs. Smith, Gregory Suero and Deepak Hooda, as well as electrophysiologists Drs. Christopher Kolibash and Manider Bedi.

The WATCHMAN device, manufactured by Boston Scientific, has been implanted in more than 50,000 patients worldwide. AF is the most common cardiac arrhythmia. Twenty percent of all strokes occur in patients with AF, and AF-related strokes are more frequently disabling or fatal.

Details about the procedure and referral to Wheeling Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Center can be made by contacting Crystal Pietranton, NP, Cardiac Services coordinator, at 1-833-944-3278.

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Contact: Gregg Warren, Vice President - Marketing/Public Relations, 304-243-3260

Wheeling Hospital has become the first hospital in the region to implant a device designed to help reduce the chance of a stroke. The procedure is performed by members of the hospital’s Structural Heart Program. From left are implant team members: interventional cardiologist Dr. Deepak Hooda; Cardiac Services Coordinator Crystal Pietranton, NP; and interventional cardiologists Dr. Triston Smith, program director; and Dr. Gregory Suero. Not shown are electrophysiologists Drs. Maninder Bedi and Christopher Kolibash.