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Northwestern Medicine McHenry performs new type of stroke-reducing implant as part of cardiovascular unit expansion

Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital performed its first procedure implanting a device into a patient’s heart designed to reduce the risk of strokes and replace blood thinners, a step made possible by the hospital’s expansion of its cardiovascular unit.

This is the first time a McHenry County area hospital has done this kind of operation.

The physicians who did the surgery, Dr. Tonye Teme in cardiac electrophysiology and Dr. Asad Sheikh in interventional cardiology, both recently joined the Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute to “bring additional leading-edge cardiovascular care to the far northwest suburbs,” Northwestern Medicine said in a news release.

Dr. Aqeel Sandhu was also recently added to the cardiovascular team as well, to bring what Northwestern said would be a “higher level of cardiac surgery” to the community.

The investment in the cardiovascular unit came as Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital this year opened three newly constructed patient care units costing $6.2 million. Additional units also are on track to be modernized, a project that carries a price tag of more than $6 million, the Northwest Herald previously reported.

The changes also led the hospital system to announce it was moving its obstetric and neonatal services to its Huntley hospital, which has garnered pushback from some residents, doctors and elected leaders.

While implanting this cardiovascular device is new in McHenry, large cities like Chicago often have multiple institutions that can implant the device, said Dr. Khalil Ibrahim, who practices in the division of cardiology at the University of Illinois Chicago.

The procedure involves physicians putting a specialized catheter, called a Watchman, into someone’s heart using a vein on their upper leg and positioning the device at the entrance of the left atrial appendage, a small sac in the muscle wall of the top left chamber of the heart.

The Watchman is relatively new in the U.S., although “it’s been used in Europe for a much longer time,” Teme said.

Having a hospital that offers the Watchman closer to home saves the patients from having to travel a far distance to get the service done, saving them time and multiple long trips, Ibrahim said.

It also raises awareness generally of the Watchman’s existence, Ibrahim said. Some physicians or patients might not be aware of the technology, he said.

Blood thinners are the “gold standard” to reduce strokes, Ibrahim said, so they should be the way to go for those who can tolerate them.

But the Watchman procedure itself is becoming more popular, he added, with tens of thousands being implanted last year. More than 150,000 procedures have been performed worldwide, according to Watchman’s website.

Candidates for the Watchman device include older adults as well as first responders, farmers, carpenters or others with jobs that put them at high risk for major bleeding events and accidents.

“It’s very safe,” Ibrahim said.

Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital’s first procedure went “beautifully,” Teme said. After following up with the patient, doctors learned the Watchman is still in place and has healed up pretty well, Teme added.

“It was a lot more pressure because it was the first one in the area,” Teme said. “There’s a lot of a lot of eyes and a lot of interest in the procedure.”

This pressure dissipated quickly once Teme was in the operating room, he said.

“During the procedure, everything is sort of like riding the bike smoothly,” he said. “It felt good … that we could offer this to the community. Now the work is getting the word out that this is offered.”

The Watchman device is meant for patients with atrial fibrillation where it is not caused by a heart valve problem.

“Most hospitals are beginning to offer the Watchman as a means to come off blood thinners,” Teme said.

Designed to seal off the heart’s left atrial appendage, a Watchman prevents blood from entering, pooling and forming a clot. Most patients discontinue using blood thinners 45 days after the procedure, according to Northwestern Medicine and Watchman, with more than 99% of patients in a clinical trial off them one year after receiving a Watchman.

During his career, Teme’s implanted about 30 to 50 Watchman devices in patients. Because of this experience, Teme said, he didn’t need any extra training when it came to the procedure itself. Instead, he concentrated on getting the logistics and workflow in place to do it at the McHenry hospital.

“The procedure is one part of the puzzle,” Teme said.

To do the procedure, Northwestern needed a dedicated master physiologist willing to start up the program, which is why such a device hadn’t been implanted in the county before, Teme said.

But with the new hires, the hospital got the “momentum” to “get things moving in that direction,” Teme said.

“We’re growing, and that comes with recruitment and fine-tuning the whole process,” he said.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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