Healthwatch 16: WATCHMAN Implant Reduces Stroke Risk in AFib Patients

GEISINGER WYOMING VALLEY -- A retired police officer says he is crossing his fingers that he'll soon be able to be medication-free.

He's one patient at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center to undergo a procedure that doctors say GWV jumped on early, and so far are seeing success.

Joe Oblen lives in Kingston. He's almost 84 years old, a retired Kingston police officer who gave 21 years to the force and now loves to talk about his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

"Feel great! I feel great, feel wonderful," said Oblen. "I have a wonderful family."

Eight years ago, Joe had a stroke which led to years of being on a blood thinner which led to a scary internal bleeding incident while he was on vacation a few years ago.

That led him to Dr. Kishore Harjai, the medical director of structural heart intervention at Geisinger Northeast.

Dr. Harjai says Joe has atrial fibrillation, or AFib, an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can cause heart-related complications. He quickly realized Joe was a candidate for WATCHMAN.

"Prior to WATCHMAN, what we could have to do is either give them the blood thinner and accept the risks of the blood thinner, such as internal bleeding, or we would not give them the blood thinner and have to accept the risk of stroke, from lack of blood thinner therapy," Dr. Harjai explained.

Dr. Harjai demonstrated for us exactly how it's inserted into a chamber of the heart called the left atrial appendage.

"The left atrial appendage is the site where blood clots develop in patients who have AFib," Dr. Harjai said.

WATCHMAN fills that appendage and seals it off from the rest of the heart, so clots can't get through.

"No pain, nothing, no aftereffects. I thought there would be a bump but I couldn't feel anything," said Oblen.

The goal here is for Oblen to eventually be off all prescription medication.

"Oh! that will be such a blessing. trust me."

And Dr. Harjai says that is possible.

"We're seeing phenomenal success. We're impressed with how the process is changing the lives of many patients."

Since it was first approved by the FDA about 18 months ago, Dr. Harjai says doctors at Geisinger Wyoming Valley have used the WATCHMAN device in about 35 patients.