Fort Worth

Fort Worth hospital is first in DFW to implant new heart device

New Cardiac Procedure

Plaza Medical Center debuts new procedure to guard against strokes and bold clots. (Star-Telegram/Joyce Marshall)
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Plaza Medical Center debuts new procedure to guard against strokes and bold clots. (Star-Telegram/Joyce Marshall)

An 85-year-old Granbury woman is the first person in North Texas to undergo a procedure meant to lower stroke risk in certain patients with atrial fibrillation.

A team of five cardiologists led by Dr. Amir Malik implanted the Watchman device Wednesday at Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth in the city’s hospital district.

About a dozen other health professionals squeezed into the operating room to observe the regionally historic — the first in Dallas-Fort Worth, hospital officials say — 43-minute operation. Afterward, cheers and camera flashes filled the room

“We had a great result for a first case,” Malik, head of the hospital’s structural heart program, said after stepping from operating room. “It was textbook perfect.”

The other surgeons on the team were Drs. Farhan Ali, Nayyar Shah, Senthil Thambidorai and Ashesh Parikh.

About 25 other hospitals nationwide, including two in Texas, are Watchman implementation sites, according to the website of device manufacturer Boston Scientific.

The Watchman procedure targets the left atrial appendage, which can allow blood to pool and create blood clots. Clots can break free and travel to the brain, causing strokes, and the risk is much greater in people who suffer from from irregular heart rhythms, especially as atrial fibrillation, because they can allow more blood to back up into the appendage.

The umbrella-shaped device seals off the appendage, and the body begins creating living tissue across the umbrella for a permanent repair within about 45 days.

The procedure is minimally invasive, requiring only a needle and catheter to set the device.

About 5 million Americans suffer from atrial fibrillation

“The candidates for this are patients who don’t tolerate blood thinners very well because of other bleeding disorders,” said Ali. “That’s why this is big news. In the past, we would just accept the risk for stroke. We were between a rock and a hard place, between bleeding or a stroke.”

In such cases, doctors usually would prescribe warfarin or other anticoagulants at a lower dosage, he said.

Willa Dean Callaway, the first of four patients who underwent the procedure Wednesday, said that among her blessings is that her longtime personal cardiologist is Malik himself. He recommended the operation.

“It was after I had another procedure just to get my heart rate back up,” she said. “I was taking so much medicine for my high blood pressure that being on blood thinners wasn’t a good thing to do. So just cutting down on the possibility of having a stroke really sounded good to me.”

Callaway, who has three children and eight grandchildren, spoke from her hospital room Thursday afternoon as family members packed her things for the trip home — barely 24 hours after the surgery.

“That’s wonderful!” she said.

Callaway couldn’t remember exactly what Malik told her when she awoke in recovery, she said.

“But I knew everything was OK. He didn’t have to say so.”

After years of clinical trials, the Watchman implant procedure was first approved for use in Europe in 2005. The Food and Drug Administration approved the implants on March 13, and the first procedure followed on March 23, a spokeswoman for Boston Scientific said in an email.

The hospital’s cardiology staff is on a bit of a roll lately. In May, a team of more than 20 medical professionals performed the first transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure in Tarrant County, the hospital said in a statement. It’s the latest federally approved treatment for people diagnosed with a severe narrowing of the aortic valve who are too sick or high risk for open-heart surgery.

Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641

Twitter: @Kaddmann_ST