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Helping Your Heart with The Watchman

PLAINS TOWNSHIP -- Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is an irregular, sometimes rapid heartbeat.

A doctor at Geisinger Medical Center says as many as one-third of people who have AFib won't have symptoms, just like a man we spoke to from the Poconos.

He recently had a procedure to help prevent a problem often caused by AFib, something the doctor says his patients have been waiting for.

It's in the state-of-the-art cardiac cath lab at Geisinger Wyoming Valley's Pearsall Heart Hospital where Dr. Pugazhendhi Vijayaraman -- who goes by Dr. Vijay -- is doing something he thinks will help a lot of people in this area.

"It's something that a lot of our patients have been waiting for for a long time. FDA finally approved it about a year and a half ago," explained Dr. Vijayaraman.

He's talking about a little device called the Watchman, manufactured by a company called Boston Scientific.

To explain the Watchman, Dr. Vijay first explained atrial fibrillation, or AFib, an irregular, sometimes quivering heartbeat.

"Atrial fibrillation causes several issues, the most worrisome part is the risk for a stroke."

AFib can allow blood clots to form in the heart. If they detach and get to the brain, that can cause a stroke.

Frank Rossetti, 71, of Tobyhanna, didn't know he had AFib until he needed a knee replacement surgery. He was given a pacemaker, but clots were still a concern, and blood thinners were not an option. He talked with Dr. Vijay about what comes next.

"So I says, 'what can we do?' and he says, 'they came out with this thing called a Watchman,'" Rossetti said.

Using a catheter, the device is placed onto the heart. The body soon grows a membrane over the Watchman so a clot can't pass through. The blood can instead be reabsorbed into the body instead of traveling elsewhere.

Frank had the procedure in late October and says the whole thing took about 45 minutes and he went home the next day.

"If that blood clot rises, it's not going to come out of that valve. That's why I went with the operation."

"This device is a major breakthrough in terms of helping those patients who cannot take long-term blood thinners to reduce the risk of stroke," said Dr. Vijay.

Dr. Vijay says there are similar devices out there but the Watchman is the only one approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. right now.

He has implanted about a dozen of them over the last few months and now travels around the country teaching other doctors how to do it.