Local Woman Undergoes the First Watchman Procedure in Midland
Ardis Shields, the first patient to have the Watchman Implant procedure done at MidMichigan Medical Center – Midland, says it’s one of the best things that’s happened in her life.
Ardis Shields had successfully managed her heart health for years. Born with a heart murmur, her condition was not a problem for most of her life. About 20 years ago, however, she was twice treated and monitored for blood clots in the groin and lower leg. She also had a pacemaker implanted in 2011.
The 72-year-old Shields was enjoying her retirement until one morning later that year. “I was in a restaurant having breakfast when I started having severe chest pain and back pain,” she said. “I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest.”
A trip to the hospital followed where Shields was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, often referred to as AFib, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
AFib is a heart condition where the upper chambers of the heart (atrium) beat too fast and with irregular rhythm (fibrillation). AFib is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, currently affecting more than five million Americans. Twenty percent of all strokes occur in patients with AFib. AFib-related strokes are more frequently fatal and disabling.
While some people with AFib have few, if any, symptoms, Shields found them unsettling. “It was scary when I went into AFib,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to come out of it.”
Shields said there was a bright side to her unexpected trip to the hospital that day, she was treated by Interventional Cardiologist Maged Rizk, M.D., Ph.D. “I asked him that day if he would please be my heart doctor and I’ve counted him as a best friend ever since!” she said.
For the next several years, Dr. Rizk very carefully monitored Shields’ health. Her history of blood clots elevated her risk for future blood clots so she took blood-thinning medication. While effective at preventing strokes, they carry serious potential side effects that include gastrointestinal bleeding and rectal bleeding. After almost 20 years of blood thinners, Shields needed options.
“Dr. Rizk told me about this new procedure and asked me if I would consider it,” Shields said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I was going to be the first patient to have it done here.”
This new procedure, referred to as the Watchman™ Implant, provides an alternative treatment to people like Shields who needed a better long-term solution for her AFib.
The Watchman implant closes off an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage. By closing it off, blood clots formed in the appendage cannot enter the blood stream and potentially cause a stroke. Over time, patients are also able to stop taking blood thinners which decreases their bleeding risk. Shields was excited about the possibility of the procedure and glad to have a minimally invasive alternative. “I would not have gone through open heart surgery,” she said. “It was just too much.”
She had surgery on September 6, 2017. “They kept saying ‘This is the famous one’ because I was the first patient,” she laughed. “It didn’t bother me if I was the first or the last, I’m just glad I got it done.”
Because of the complexity, this advanced procedure requires the involvement of a multi-disciplinary team of specialists representing multiple areas of cardiology. Watchman team members included Cardiologist/ Cardiac Imaging Specialists Susan Sallach, M.D., Jeffrey Martindale, D.O., and Waleed Doghmi, M.D; Electrophysiologist Nilofar Islam, M.D.; and Interventional Cardiologist Maged Rizk, M.D., Ph.D.
Shields had no complaints of her time at MidMichigan Medical Center - Midland. “Everyone treated me very well. They even fed me well,” she said. Post-surgery, her medications were changed and if all goes well, she will soon be able to totally forgo blood thinners.
Shields has no regrets at all. “I’m so happy Dr. Rizk asked me to consider it and I’m glad I had it done. It’s made my life easier.”
“I would recommend it to anyone who needs it. If you qualify, go for it! It will change your life,” she said. “It’s one of the best things that has happened to me in my later life.”
Symptomatic AFib can also be treated through an ablation procedure performed by electrophysiologists at MidMichigan Medical Center - Midland. Those who would like more information on the Watchman Left Atrial Appendage Closure Implant may visit www.midmichigan.org/watchman or call (989) 794-5200.