How the WATCHMAN™ Device Reduced Stroke Risk for A-fib Patient Connie Wiley

It’s been just over a year since the specialists at MedStar Washington Hospital Center implanted the WATCHMAN device in Connie Wiley, a grandmother of six from Woodbridge, Virginia, and she is feeling better than ever. Connie was one of the first patients in the world to receive this treatment, used to reduce the risk of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation (A-fib), and since her procedure, we have performed more than 50 WATCHMAN procedures —the most in the Mid-Atlantic region.

If you're like Connie, you have had the shadow of atrial fibrillation and its associated complications looming over you. Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is an arrhythmia of the upper two chambers of the heart. Because the blood flow from the atria to the ventricles in the heart is compromised due to an irregular heartbeat, blood pools (and consequently can clot) in the atria. In the past, the most common treatment for A-fib was a blood thinner, such as warfarin. However, the main problem with long-term blood thinner use is the risk of internal bleeding.

With atrial fibrillation, the risk of heart attack and stroke increases exponentially. Even blood thinners used to combat the clotting can have their own set of difficulties. However, the WATCHMAN gives hope to those who want complete freedom from some of the potential problems and complications of both A-fib and the medications used to treat it.

Connie's Story

As an avid gardener and grandmother of six, Connie hardly fits the image of a massive coronary and three-time stroke survivor. Looks, however, can be deceiving. A-fib was dragging Connie down, sapping her energy and leaving her feeling tired and unable to function at an optimal level.

“I am an active person, and I wanted to do things,” Connie reflected. “But my body wouldn’t let me do them.”

Not only was she feeling fatigued, her condition was also leading to strokes that could have eventually been fatal. But with a great team of cardiologists and other specialists on her side, Connie was able to reclaim her active lifestyle without the worry of another stroke on the horizon.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even be here,” she said.

The WATCHMAN Device

The doctors at the MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, located at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., gave Connie a new lease on life after her third stroke, caused by a blood clot that formed due to her atrial fibrillation. It was determined that Connie would be an excellent candidate for receiving an innovative device called the WATCHMAN. For the region, this procedure was the first of its kind. For Connie, she was one of the first WATCHMAN patients in the world.

Using minimally invasive techniques, surgeons introduced the WATCHMAN into her heart, closing off the left atrial appendage (LAA), the area in which most major clots in atrial fibrillation patients develop.

Life, Renewed

After she received the WATCHMAN, Connie almost instantly noticed an increase in her energy level -- she was able to start doing all of the things she'd thought she wouldn't ever be able to enjoy again. One of her biggest victories — and perhaps the moment she knew things were looking up — was when she was able to water her garden the evening of her return home following the implantation of her WATCHMAN device.

One Year Later

Just over a year after her procedure, Connie is feeling better than she has in a long time. Her energy continued to increase following her procedure, allowing her to resume all of her beloved activities. “Not only do I have energy now, I have peace of mind, knowing that I’m not going to stroke,” Connie shared.

At times, Connie's life can become complicated and stressful. Many of these instances would have spelled disaster before the WATCHMAN, precipitating the possibility of another stroke event. The WATCHMAN has allowed her to sail through each challenge without the worry of clots leaving the LAA and traveling to her brain again.

Another advantage Connie is quick to point out is that she has also been able to discontinue her blood thinners, making the possibility of a bleeding event almost nonexistent. Although they can be the difference between life and death for many patients, blood thinners can heighten the risk of bleed-out from even the slightest bumps and bruises — many of which Connie experiences chasing after her six wonderful grandchildren.

If you suffer from atrial fibrillation and are at an increased risk for stroke, you may want to consider the option of the WATCHMAN. By taking control of your A-fib and its associated risks, you, just like Connie, can take your life back and live it on your terms.

Have questions?

We are here to help! If you have any questions about MedStar Washington Hospital Center, call us at 855-546-1974.

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