MD Insider: Stroke-preventing device changes Cincinnati man’s life

​When Bob Braun of Cincinnati went for a Caribbean cruise in 2015, he had an unexpected shore excursion. “I wasn’t feeling well so I went to the infirmary,” Braun recalls. “I was bleeding internally. They didn’t have any blood on board and we were at sea.”

Within 15 minutes, two carefully-chosen crew members each gave Braun a liter of blood, but the trouble continued. He was taken to a hospital in Jamaica, where he had to pay cash in advance to receive treatment. “The hospital had no hot water and maybe five or six beds,” Braun says.

After three days in Jamaica and several more in a Fort Lauderdale hospital, Braun was finally able to return to Cincinnati and consult his cardiologist, Dr. Wojciech Mazur of The Christ Hospital. Dr. Mazur immediately suspected Braun’s blood thinning medication was the main cause for the bleeding. That’s when he told Braun about a new device called Watchman.

Braun and many other adult heart patients have atrial fibrillation (AFib for short), an irregular heartbeat that increases the risk of stroke. Braun first showed signs of AFib in 2013, about two years after his first heart attack. “They took me into the hospital and shocked my heart into normal rhythm but that lasted only a month,” Braun says. After that he started on blood thinners.

Braun and many other adult heart patients have atrial fibrillation (AFib for short), an irregular heartbeat that increases the risk of stroke. Braun first showed signs of AFib in 2013, about two years after his first heart attack. “They took me into the hospital and shocked my heart into normal rhythm but that lasted only a month,” Braun says. After that he started on blood thinners.

“Strokes associated with atrial fibrillation are much more devastating,” says Dr. Joseph Choo, an interventional cardiologist who helped start the Watchman Program at The Christ Hospital. “They have double the likelihood of causing death and are three times as likely to cause disability. This is because much larger blood clots can form in the left atrium, a chamber of the heart, and if they break off, larger areas of the brain can be damaged.”

AFib patients have traditionally taken blood thinners like Coumadin (warfarin) or Xarelto (rivaroxaban) to prevent clots forming inside the heart. Unfortunately, these medications also prevent clotting everywhere else.

“One of the major side effects of these medications is bleeding, even with everyday activity,” Dr. Choo says. “A fall, a bump or just slipping in the tub can cause significant bleeding issues.” Blood thinners are also inconvenient because they may require regular monitoring and blood work, create diet restrictions, and can react unpredictably with other medications.

Watchman gave AFib patients like Braun a new treatment option when it received FDA approval in 2015. Resembling a tiny mesh umbrella, the device is designed to be inserted into the left atrial appendage of the heart, where it prevents most blood clots from forming. The minimally-invasive procedure takes 45 to 60 minutes. Most patients go home the next day and can stop using prescription blood thinners about six weeks later.

While Braun was the first Cincinnati patient to receive the Watchman commercially, Dr. Gupta and Dr. Choo had considerable experience with this procedure following several years of participating in the clinical trials that resulted in FDA approval.

“We participated in trials conducted through the Lindner Research Center that ultimately convinced the FDA this was a device worth approving,” Dr. Choo says. “There are other programs beginning in the Cincinnati area, but none have the level of experience that we do.”

“We have a dedicated Watchman team that includes a coordinator and nurses,” Dr. Choo adds. “That’s very important to provide better support for our patients, both before and after the procedure.”

Nearly two years later, Braun is enjoying an active life, with fewer doctor’s visits and without fears of severe bleeding. “I don’t have any restrictions on diet or anything else, or any medicine for blood thinning,” Braun says. “It’s working out pretty well.”

Click to learn more about the Watchman Device or to schedule an appointment with one of our experts to customize a care plan for you, call 513-685-0978.