Newly approved FDA device saves lives one heart at a time

To raise awareness for American Heart Month, Channel 3 News has been telling you about some of the latest life-saving procedures available and the patients whose lives those procedures have changed.

For the past 12 years Owen Sharp has been struggling with heart issues. High blood pressure led to having a stent placed, which progressed into atrial fibrillation.

"As it came on, it was very physical," said Owen.

There are two options to treat A-fib; pharmacological, the use of medication and non-pharmacological, which involves surgery. Owen opted for anti-coagulation medication, more specifically, blood thinners. He was taking five different pills every day, which cardiologist, Dr. Thabet Alsheikh said can come with serious side effects.

"Interaction with food, interaction with other medications, the inconvenience of taking it, the need for frequent testing, these are things we need to worry about in patients taking anti-coagulation," said Dr. Alsheikh. "But the main safety concern is bleeding."

That's what happened to Owen. After developing internal bleeding, something had to be done, so he went to his doctor.

"When I walked in the door, [my doctor] said, I have good news for you today," said Owen. "I had no idea what he was talking about, but he said, I think I can fix your problem."

The fix was the watchman device. Inserted under general anesthesia, the non-invasive procedure takes about an hour to complete.

"The device is delivered through a small sheath, 3-4 millimeters in diameter," said Dr. Alsheikh. "We go through the groin, push the sheath all the way to the top chamber of the heart, when we get to the appendage, we deliver the device. It comes out like an umbrella and plugs that pouch, so if a clot is formed in the future, now it cannot leave to cause a stroke."

Approved by the FDA in 2015 Baptist Health Care began offering it in 2016. Owen was the sixth person in Pensacola to undergo the procedure.

"I'm up to date with the technology that's available. So, that's a very good thing, to know that you have the most current improvements available," said Owen. "The issue about my heart is settled as far as I'm concerned, that means I can plan my life into the future, rather than living day by day."

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