Watchman Device Coming to Three BayCare Hospitals

February 27, 2017

Implanted Device Lowers Stroke Risk

CLEARWATER, Fla., (Febraury 27, 2017)—Three BayCare hospitals, St. Joseph’s, Morton Plant and Winter Haven, will soon be offering the Watchman Device that can help people with Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) who are unable to tolerate blood-thinning medications reduce the risk of stroke.

AFib is an electrical or rhythm problem with the heart where the right and left atria do not work together properly causing an irregular heartbeat. People with AFib are at high risk of stroke because the atria are beating rapidly and irregularly, which can cause blood not to flow through as quickly as normal and to clot. If the clot is pumped out of the heart, it can travel to the brain and result in a stroke.

In people with AFib not caused by heart valve problems, more than 90% of stroke-causing clots that come from the heart are formed in the left atrial appendage (LAA). The Watchman implant is designed to permanently block off the LAA and keep these blood clots from escaping.

“We have generally treated AFib patients who are at increased risk of stroke with blood-thinning medications,” said James Irwin, MD, co-medical director of the electrophysiology lab at St. Joseph’s. “These are largely effective and most people can take them without serious side effects. Unfortunately some patients cannot tolerate these medications. These patients may be candidates for the Watchman.” Dr. Irwin was principal investigator for a national clinical trial conducted at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

The Watchman Implant, which resembles a mini umbrella, acts as a barrier to prevent left atrial appendage blood clots from entering the blood stream and blocking a blood vessel in the brain causing a stroke. The device is implanted in the left atrial appendage with a minimally invasive procedure using a catheter inserted through the groin. Within about 45 days, a thin layer of tissue grows over the surface of the Watchman implant.

St. Joseph’s Hospital participated in clinical trials for the Watchman. ““The Watchman Device allows us to offer certain patients an alternative to a life-time of blood thinners,” said Kevin Makati, MD, co-director of the electrophysiology lab at St. Joseph’s. “This procedure has the potential to have a positive impact on patients’ lives.”

St. Joseph’s was the first hospital in the BayCare Health System to perform the Watchman procedure on February 14. Morton Plant Hospital is expected to use the device next with electrophysiologist Jose Gallastegui, MD, medical director of electrophysiology and arrhythmia, taking the lead. At Winter Haven Hospital, electrophysiologist Rodrigo Bolanos, MD, director of Winter Haven’s EP lab and Octavio Cosme, MD, medical director of interventional cardiology, are finalizing the clinical process for the device’s use. Dr. Bolanos expects to begin using the Watchman in April.

Not all AFib patients are candidates for the Watchman. The FDA recommends the Watchman only be used in patients who
  • Have AFib not related to heart valve disease
  • Are at increased risk for a stroke
  • Are recommended for blood thinning medicines
  • Are suitable for warfarin
  • Have an appropriate reason to seek a non-drug alternative to warfarin

About BayCare’s Heart Services

From the youngest patients to adults, our commitment to exceptional patient care can be seen in the quality of our heart services. For decades, our heart experts have brought some of the most advanced and innovative procedures and treatments to the communities we serve. With programs and services nationally recognized, our doctorsparticipate in clinical trials to help find new solutions for patients; teach new techniques to doctors from all over the country and have developed teams of doctors and clinical staff from different specialties to bring collaborative models of care to our patients. Areas of expertise include cardiothoracic surgery, cardiovascular procedures, electrophysiology, interventional cardiology, medical cardiology, diagnostics, imaging and cardiac rehabilitation, as well as screenings, education and support.

About BayCare
BayCare is a leading not-for-profit health care system that connects individuals and families to a wide range of services at 14 hospitals and hundreds of other convenient locations throughout the Tampa Bay and west central Florida regions. Inpatient and outpatient services include acute care, primary care, imaging, laboratory, behavioral health, home care, and wellness. Our mission is to improve the health of all we serve through community-owned health care services that set the standard for high-quality, compassionate care. For more information, visit