Living with atrial fibrillation (AFib) — a quivering, irregular heartbeat — can be worrisome. Patients with AFib are at greater risk for other complications like stroke and heart failure. Plus, many patients must take blood-thinning medication, which comes with an additional set of risks. Do to the Innovative surgical advancements patients like Charles Fletcher have be given hope.

Charles and Ida Fletcher
Charles and Ida Fletcher

This was true for Snohomish resident Charles Fletcher. The 81-year-old retired aircraft designer has been dealing with AFib for more than 10 years. A few months ago, however, his symptoms changed. He started to have bouts of dizziness, weakness and blackouts. The previously active man who could hike and walk briskly now struggled to walk at all. And when the dizzy spells started occurring when he was behind the wheel, he took special notice.

“I knew the best thing to do was to stop driving,” he said. “My kids had to drive me everywhere. That was hard on everyone.”

Charles and his wife, Ida, met with an interventional cardiologist, who told them an innovative new device, the Watchman, was his best option to resolve his symptoms and reduce his chance of stroke.

Innovative Surgical Advancements Provides New Treatment Options

The human heart is a multifaceted muscle. Its main function, is to pump blood, oxygen, nutrients, and waste through the body to keep it operating normally. On the left side of the heart, an ear-shaped cavity — called the left atrial appendage — protrudes from the heart’s wall. It’s unclear what, if any, purpose the serves.

But, for patients with AFib, like Charles Fletcher, their irregular heartbeat can cause blood to pool in the left atrial appendage. More importantly, that pooled blood can thicken and form clots. If a clot moves out of the appendage, it can get stuck in an artery, cut off blood supply to the brain, and cause a catastrophic event like a stroke.

The new and innovative Watchman device closes off the left atrial appendage so blood can’t pool or clot there. With a patient under general anesthesia, an interventional cardiologist guides a catheter through a small incision in the groin, into the femoral artery, and to the heart. Using this minimally-invasive method, the doctor positions the Watchman over the left atrial appendage, then opens it like a parachute to cover the opening and prevent blood from gathering there.

In most patients, new heart tissue grows and covers the Watchman in about a month. And, for many, the need for blood-thinning medications is eliminated, resulting in life-changing preventative treatment, with a faster recovery time.

Life-saving care, just down the street

Charles was one of the first patients to receive the Watchman implant at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. And that little device has been life changing for Charles.

“No more dizziness,” he said. “I can drive again, and I’m more independent. I’m optimistic I’ll get back to things I enjoyed doing before.”

Like hiking, for instance. Charles is already planning his first hike since his Watchman device was implanted: Big Four Ice Caves with his granddaughter.

Ida is pleased, too. “I’m no longer worried he’ll have a stroke. He can be active, he can drive — he can be himself again.”

Investments bring innovation

In 2018, Providence General Foundation invested more than $1 million in the new state-of-the-art catheterization lab at Providence Regional Medical Center. Thanks to the generosity of donors, doctors in the cath lab are improving the lives of patients every day with innovative treatments like the Watchman and other innovative heart procedures.

The Providence General Foundation thanks the community for its support, and looks forward to helping Providence Regional Medical Center stay on the cutting edge of life-changing medical technology well into the future.