By Julie Vargo, Editorial Contributor
Two years ago, Don Schaus was moping around the house, wishing he could attend his grandson’s graduation. But he had heart problems, and that kept holding him back.
“I was living with a little fear in the back of my head that my heart could go awry at any moment, and I would be in trouble,” says the retired Orlando businessman, who had spent decades crisscrossing the country while working in the food industry.
Schaus suffered from atrial fibrillation (AFib), a common heart arrhythmia affecting almost 3 million Americans. Patients with this condition have irregular heartbeats, which occur when the heart’s upper and lower chambers (the atria) contract rapidly and erratically. Because AFib can lead to the formation of blood clots that increase the risk of stroke or heart attack, it’s critical to diagnose and treat any signs of it immediately.
“I discovered I had AFib by a fluke,” says Schaus, who follows a regular schedule of wellness exams with his primary care physician. “During a routine physical, my family doctor didn’t like how my heart sounded, so he sent me to a cardiologist right away.”
Dr. Adam J. Waldman at the Orlando Health Heart & Vascular Institute diagnosed Schaus’ AFib immediately and placed him on the anticoagulant, warfarin. With time, however, the blood-thinning therapy became ineffective for him.
Concerned about his “ticker,” the active septuagenarian curtailed his busy lifestyle and hobby of collecting signature hats from every city he visited. “I was scared to death. Your heart keeps your motor running,” says Schaus.
“I just didn’t see how I could travel with this AFib situation,” he says.
During a regular cardio checkup, his doctor suggested an option — a minimally invasive procedure for patients who cannot be on blood thinner. The tiny device, called the Watchman™, is implanted in the heart to close the left atrial appendage and minimize the risk of blood-clot related strokes. The Watchman is a one-time implant that doesn’t need to be replaced.
“The initial thought was frightening,” says Schaus. “I didn’t want to mess with my heart. I didn’t want to have another stroke. But with the Watchman, my doctor assured me I wouldn’t have to worry.”
Before Schaus agreed to the procedure, he wanted more information. Dr. Roland A. Filart, a board-certified clinical cardiac electrophysiologist at the Orlando Health Heart & Vascular Institute, provided the reassurance he needed.
“This state-of-the-art device has demonstrated a successful track record for patients just like Don,” says Dr. Filart. “He wanted to go to his grandson’s graduation. I told him, ‘If I put the Watchman in, I’ll get you there.’ ”
Zing, Zing, Zing and Done
Schaus decided to have the minimally invasive outpatient procedure. Done under general anesthesia, the Watchman device takes about an hour to implant. While some patients stay in the hospital overnight, Schaus was able to leave the same day.
“The procedure was honestly a piece of cake — zing, zing, zing and done!” says Schaus, who attended his grandson’s graduation and hasn’t stopped moving since. “Best of all, I don’t have to constantly worry about my heart anymore.”
Schaus tips his hat to Dr. Filart. “He is a great surgeon and a great man. Not just because of what he did for me, but because he kept his word about that graduation,” says Schaus.
“He cares about his patients and he is smart as a whip. He is my hero.”
Is the Watchman Right for You?
To be a candidate for the Watchman procedure, patients should have:
- AFib not caused by heart valve problems
- A doctor recommendation for blood-thinning medicines
- A history of bleeding or lifestyle with bleeding risks from long-term therapy
- A need for an alternative to blood thinners
Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) is the only hospital in Central Florida, and one of only two hospitals in the state of Florida, to have full accreditation from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care for its Atrial Fibrillation Program.