St. Luke’s Hospital is the first healthcare network in the St. Louis region to perform a commercial implant of the newly FDA-approved WATCHMAN FLX™ device. This next generation permanent heart implant is a catheter-based, non-surgically delivered device designed to close the left atrial appendage. The procedure works to increase safety by reducing the risk of stroke in certain patients with atrial fibrillation.
J. Mauricio Sanchez, MD, FHRS, St. Luke’s Hospital left atrial appendage closure program director, successfully performed the first commercial WATCHMAN FLX procedure in the St. Louis area on Nov. 9, 2020.
“For many years, high risk patients with atrial fibrillation have been treated with blood thinners,” said Sanchez. “While these drugs reduce the risk of stroke and can save lives, they can also carry their own risk for complications, such as internal bleeding. The WATCHMAN FLX is a game changer for reducing risk of stroke in some patients with atrial fibrillation who may have challenges with long-term use of blood thinners.”
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular heartbeat that can cause blood to pool and form clots in the left atrial appendage (LAA), a small pouch on the left side of the heart. For patients with AFib not caused by a heart valve problem, the LAA is the source of the majority of those stroke-causing blood clots. The WATCHMAN FLX works by blocking and sealing off the LAA.
“Building upon the well-established WATCHMAN technology, the WATCHMAN FLX device serves as a safe and effective stroke risk reduction alternative for patients with non-valvular AFib, especially those with a compelling reason not to be on blood thinners,” said Craig Reiss, MD, FACC, St. Luke’s Hospital chief of cardiovascular medicine. “We are excited to offer this advanced treatment option to our patients.”
In addition, increased flexibility of the next generation device’s design enables patients with more challenging anatomies to be more safely and effectively implanted with it. This means physicians are able to treat patients with a wider range of anatomies using the WATCHMAN FLX device.
In 2011, Sanchez was selected as one of the primary investigators to take part in the initial studies for the first-generation WATCHMAN device, which was FDA-approved for commercial use in 2015. He has published numerous abstracts and papers on the subject and now has an almost a decade of experience with LAA closure.