A life-long drummer, Steve Shimkonis of Hanover, has always kept the musical beat. However, in late 2019, doctors discovered the rhythm was off in his heart.
Last week, WellSpan physicians gave Steve the Watchman FLX ™ implant to help control his risk of stroke due to atrial fibrillation. The procedure at WellSpan York Hospital was the first to happen in Pennsylvania after the device was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in late July.
“I know they’re looked at as one of the top hospitals around and having this here, at this point, that has got to say something about the hospital,” said Steve as he waited for his Aug. 6 procedure at WellSpan York Hospital.
In September, Steve was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, commonly known as A-fib, a problem with electrical currents in the heart that cause irregular heartbeat. Dr. Brian Schuler says patients with A-fib have a risk for stroke that is about five times more than the average baseline risk.
“In patients with atrial fibrillation, you not only have to control the heart rate and rhythm, but also the risk of stroke, and that is often accomplished with the use of blood thinners,” Schuler said.
“This new version of the Watchman is very exciting technology that will enable us to give patients the ability to be protected from stroke, from A-fib without being on a blood thinner.”
Steve says he is looking forward to having that peace of mind, “I had to take that twice a day, and it was a pain in the neck! It’s just one less thing we have to worry about.”
His wife, Jennifer, who is also a former nurse says the device will ease her mind as well, “I think having the device provides the extra level of peace of mind. Having the device, especially the newer version, I think it is another level of comfort and security that he’s not going to have a stroke or pulmonary embolism.”
Increased access to care
“In patients with A-fib, we know that blood clots form in the left atrial appendage about 90 percent of the time,” Schuler explained. “The Watchman technology works by sealing off the place where blood clots form, we can target the device to that specific place, the lining of the heart will grow over the device and decrease the risk of stroke.”
The WellSpan York Hospital Cardiac team celebrated their 200th Watchman implant in October. Dr. Schuler says studies on the new Watchman FLX ™ device show it is three times safer than the original, there’s a lower risk of long-term clotting problems and will be available for more patients.
“There’s a lot of patients that we currently have that would be candidates for this therapy, but their anatomy is not suitable,” Schuler said. “This new Watchman FLX ™ device will allow these patients to be taken care of with this alternative to blood thinners.”
The Watchman procedure and new technology at WellSpan
The first Watchmen FLX procedure was performed by Dr. Stewart Benton, WellSpan Interventional Cardiology, and from another location within the hospital, Dr. Schuler collaborated using innovative remote camera technologies.
Earlier this year, WellSpan cardiologists were among the first in the United States to employ Avail MedsystemsTM camera and video technology to collaborate with their fellow physicians during complex cardiovascular procedures.
“Avail allows us to remotely collaborate on a case utilizing live feed data from the equipment in the room,” explained Dr. Schuler. “It is a very exciting technology for us in that you could really be anywhere across the world and collaborate on cases for our patients.”
In addition to the camera system, the team has started to use a 4DCT scanner for real-time procedural guidance for more accurate and precise device implantations, in a safe manner. Dr. Schuler says this technology has allowed his multidisciplinary team at WellSpan York Hospital to be innovators in their field.
“We have the country’s first 4DCT angio suite, it is a game changer for us. We’re pioneering new techniques in terms of delivery of the Watchman device and validating the device with a CT at the same time of the implant – no one has been able to do before.”
For information about the Watchman procedure at WellSpan, visit WellSpan.org/Watchman.