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New Procedure Reduces Risk of Stroke for Patients with Atrial Fibrillation

Panama City, Fla. (October 12, 2021) — Ascension Sacred Heart Bay is offering a new procedure that could reduce the chance of stroke for patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib) not caused by heart valve problems. The cardiovascular team at the hospital began treating patients on Oct. 7 with the procedure to implant an innovative device into the heart.

Dr. Amir Haghighat, an interventional cardiologist, says the procedure, which closes the heart’s left atrial appendage, can benefit a select number of patients with atrial fibrillation who are unable to tolerate long-term blood thinners.

“Strokes are one of the most dreaded complications of atrial fibrillation, and a large number of residents in our area suffer from the arrhythmia,” says Haghighat. “The risk of stroke is five times higher if you have AFib. Now, we can offer this advanced procedure to minimize that risk and keep our patients healthy. ”

The first four cases at Ascension Sacred Heart Bay were successfully performed by three cardiac specialists on the medical staff: Dr. Haghighat, Dr. Nghia Hoang, a cardiac electrophysiologist, and Dr. Samir Patel, an interventional cardiologist.

Patients with AFib are typically required to take blood thinners to prevent blood clots from being formed. Patients that are not able to take blood thinners due to the risk of bleeding and additional complications may be eligible to receive the procedure and discontinue blood thinners. The procedure to implant the WATCHMAN TM device is performed in the cardiac cath lab at Ascension Sacred Heart Bay and the majority of patients are discharged the same day or the day after. The hospital is the only one in the Bay County area that performs the procedure.

With AFib, which is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm disorder, the heart’s upper chambers beat irregularly, affecting heart flow to the heart and the rest of the body. When blood flow is sluggish, it can cause blood clots to form in some patients. This creates an increased risk that a clot will block blood flow to the brain, causing a potentially disabling or deadly stroke.

During the procedure, a catheter is inserted through the groin and is used to place the device in the upper left chamber of the heart where clots mostly commonly develop. The device has a metal frame that is shaped like a parachute. It acts as a filter to prevent blood clots from leaving the heart and entering the bloodstream. The WATCHMAN TM  device is the only FDA-approved device for lowering the risk of stroke in patients with AFib.