Baptist Health Floyd only hospital in area offering innovative heart procedure

March 25, 2021

The Watchman Flx can help those patients who are at risk of blood clots.

Meet Bob. Like millions of others he has been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a condition that greatly increases the risk of stroke.

For patients like Bob who suffer from AFib not caused by a heart valve problem, taking a daily blood thinner has become a way of life. It is the only way to combat possible blood clots from forming.

Some patients, however, can’t handle blood thinners due to bleeding or risk of falling.

Bob falls into that category. He struggles with nose bleeds and blood thinners only increase that problem.

“AFib is a very common problem,” said Dr. Satya Garimella, a cardiologist at Baptist Health Floyd. “The biggest nuisance is its ability to cause strokes. The heart beating fast and chaotic makes the blood pool and when it pools it forms clots.” 

The Watchman Flx can help those patients who are at risk of blood clots, but who have problems taking blood thinners.

The permanent device closes the left atrial appendage, where 90 percent of stroke-causing clots are formed in the heart. The Flx stops those clots from escaping. While the Watchman has been used since 2015, the Watchman Flx has been around only about six months. Baptist Health Floyd is the only hospital in the region to use the device and was one of the first in the nation to implement the program.

“It’s given me a new perspective once we started doing this. It’s like an umbrella,” said Baptist Health Floyd cardiologist Dr. Surender Sandella. “As physicians we have the best interest of the patients in our mind. Benefits of Watchman Flx are proven beyond a doubt. A lot of people can’t take blood thinners or forget to take  them or have to stop for procedures. This is 100 percent compliance.”

Garimella is the director of the Watchman program at Baptist Health Floyd. He said many patients have a high risk of bleeding … in the stomach, through the nose or they may frequently fall.

The Flx was designed for those patients.

The device is inserted by a catheter through the groin and placed in the left atrial appendage. The patient is under general anesthesia during the procedure which generally lasts around one hour.

“It depends on the person’s anatomy but for the majority it’s a slam dunk,” Sandella said about the ease of the procedure.

After spending the night in the hospital the patient is sent home the next day. And in most cases, after six weeks the patient can be taken off blood thinners.

“These have been some of the happiest people I have seen,” Sandella said. “Patient gratification has been high. It’s been so gratifying. We have a quality team here.”

The Watchman Flx is easier than the Watchman for doctors to maneuver. The improvement to the device makes for a less risky procedure.

“The first generation (Watchman) was a little bulky, but the new generation (Watchman Flx) is much easier to deploy,” Sandella said. 

Garimella said the Watchman Flx is much more conducive for application and patient failure is less than 1 percent.  It is “very maneuverable” for doctors to insert, he said.

“It’s a huge improvement, especially for people who have bleeding problems,” he said. “If clots form they can’t go anywhere due to the Flx.”

Garimella heads up the team of three who usually perform the procedure. While he is proud of the hospital being one of the first in the country to use the Flx, he said the cardiologists only care about what is best for the patient.

Sandella said the same, adding the only gratitude that matters is the joy he sees it bring to the patient. He said improvements are made daily in cardiology.

“History of cardiology, things change in front of your eyes, for the better,” he said. “Improvements keep happening. Stents are now much easier. I think we will see a lot more changes in cardiology to help the patient. That is why I like cardiology because the people are doers.”