ST. GEORGE — Intermountain Dixie Regional Medical Center successfully performed its first left atrial appendage closure with the use of a device called the Watchman.
According to a press release from DRMC, this is a minimally invasive procedure that can help patients who are at risk for a stroke and cannot take long-term blood thinners.
This kind of stroke risk originates in people who have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation impairs the ability of the left atrium to squeeze the blood out effectively. As a result, blood collects in the appendage – which resembles a small pouch – increasing the risk of stroke.
During a left atrial appendage closure, the Watchman device is inserted through a catheter in the upper leg where the device is guided to the heart. The device expands like an umbrella to close off extra space in the appendage and will be covered by the body’s tissue over time. This device will prevent clotting and stroke without the use of blood thinners.
Intermountain has long been a leader in performing the LAAC procedure. In addition to Dixie Regional Medical Center, the procedure is performed at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City and McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.
Cardiologist Dr. Blake Gardner led the first LAAC procedure at Dixie Regional.
“The structural heart world is growing, and we need to be able to offer this procedure to the community,” Gardner said in the press release. “Not everyone will qualify, but it can still help a large portion of our local population.”
Among that portion of the population is 82-year-old Ray Lewis, an adventurer at heart with a passion for driving side-by-side vehicles with his family.
“He doesn’t listen when we tell him to slow down,” Lewis’ daughter Terrisa Saenz said. “It’s what my dad lives for and loves to do.”
Lewis takes blood thinners, and because of the medication, a small cut can turn into a serious bleed. He had to put his passion and other activities on hold because he couldn’t risk possible injury.
“That tells you how long it’s been since I’ve made salsa,” Lewis said, pointing to a healed mark on his finger.
Lewis reached out to Gardner in August of 2019 about qualifying for the LAAC procedure. He was the perfect candidate and wanted to be the first patient to receive it. According to the press release, he is recovering quickly and is looking forward to his next adventure driving a side-by-side with his three grandsons.
If you have questions about the LAAC, please contact Cassidie Bowen at 435-251-1919.
More information will also be presented at Dixie Regional’s Heart Health Seminar on Feb. 26 from 10 a.m. to noon at 1424 E. Foremaster Drive, St. George.
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