The Coast News Group
Watchman implant
Connie Kindel received Tri-City Medical Center's 100th Watchman implant into her heart on July 11. Photo courtesy of Tri-City Medical Center.

Tri-City celebrates heart procedure milestone

OCEANSIDE — Tri-City Medical Center reached a milestone on July 11 with its successful 100th implantation of a device into the heart of a patient with congestive heart failure.

Dr. Aaron Yung, a board-certified interventional and structural cardiologist, implanted the 100th Watchman FLX™ Left Atrial Appendage Closure into the heart of Connie Kindel, a 67-year-old patient with congestive heart failure who takes warfarin for her non-valvular atrial fibrillation (AFib).

“This latest generation device serves as a safe and effective stroke risk reduction alternative for patients with non-valvular AFib, especially those with a compelling reason not to be on blood thinners,” Yung said. “For Connie, this procedure is life-changing as it will reduce her risk for stroke and bleeding, as well as allow her to stop taking a blood thinner forever.”

Tri-City, which performed its first Watchman implant on Oct. 16, 2020, is the first hospital in North County to reach this 100th procedure milestone.

“The multidisciplinary team consisting of interventionalists, electrophysiologists, cardiac imaging specialists, nurses and staff has worked hard to make this milestone possible and to transform the lives of those living with AFib,” said Dr. Gene Ma, president and CEO of Tri-City.

More than 12 million people are expected to have AFib by 2030, according to the American Heart Association. AFib is a quivering, rapid heart rhythm arising from the top two chambers, or atria, of the heart. The condition can cause blood to pool in a small pouch of the left atrium called the left atrial appendage and form clots, where almost 90% of stroke-causing clots from the heart begin.

The Watchman implant is made from a light, fabric-like membrane and metal frame resembling a parachute and comes in five different sizes to adapt to a person’s heart anatomy.

“During this minimally invasive, one-hour procedure, the collapsed device is deployed to the heart via a catheter inserted into the groin, similar to inserting a stent,” Yung explained. “Once the Watchman is in place, it self-expands to about the size of a quarter to safely seal off the left atrial appendage to prevent blood clots from entering the bloodstream and causing a stroke.”

Most patients stay overnight and then come back for a follow-up about six weeks later following a Watchman implant. During that time, they remain on a blood thinner and low-dose aspirin while a layer of heart tissue begins to grow over the device to secure it in place and form a barrier against blood clots. Based on their doctor’s recommendations after closely monitoring the tissue growth for three to six months, patients can then stop taking their oral anticoagulants.

Long-term use of oral anticoagulants can increase the risk of serious bleeding from injuries due to a fall or stomach and intestinal problems. They require monthly monitoring via a blood test, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes, so they may not be appropriate for everyone, leaving their stroke risk unchecked.

“I am so grateful that Tri-City Medical Center offers this procedure and feel that it has given me a new lease on life and peace of mind,” said Kindel, who has been discharged from the hospital. “Tri-City is one of the best hospitals I’ve ever been to and the only one I will come to.”