Cardiac Patients Who Can’t Tolerate Blood Thinners Have New Hope
Research and Innovations Irregular heart rhythm can impact the lives of young and old alike, from superstar athletes like Mario Lemieux to everyday Canadians looking forward to their summer vacations.
pend just five minutes in the company of Louis Ferguson and you would never believe that this lighthearted, energetic man suffers from numerous health problems, including heart arrhythmia, diabetes, and macular degeneration. The 72-year-old seems as spry as a man nearly half his age and speaks often about how much he enjoys keeping up with his grandkids. But, Louis’ health issues weren’t always this manageable.
“I come from a long line of workaholics. I loved working but it caused a lot of stress,” Louis admits when describing how he was diagnosed with diabetes in 1991. The disease didn’t slow him down though and he continued to travel the globe, working a wide range of jobs, including a university lecturer and a researcher.
Sadly, his health deteriorated severely in 2012, so much so Louis had to retire. His immune system was severely compromised and he became very ill. “I was incredibly fatigued all of the time and I kept getting all these flu and cold symptoms,” he explains. Louis underwent a battery of tests. “The tests revealed that many of my problems, like fatigue, shortness of breath, recurrent lack of energy, were probably due to cardiac problems like an irregular heartbeat. It became evident that I was a prime candidate for a stroke.”
In response to his cardiac problems, Louis’ doctors put him on Warfarin, a commonly used blood thinner. Unfortunately, Louis did not respond well to the medication and had severe side-effects like headaches and it would also cause blood vessels in his eyes to burst and bleed. “It was terrible,” says Louis. “I could not drive or fly on trips anymore and I was so tired all the time. I had to set aside a lot of activities and sleep more. Until I got sick, I had never had a nap in my life!”
Due to the negative side-effects Louis experienced on blood thinners, it was clear something else had to be done. So, his cardiac doctor referred him to Dr. Réda Ibrahim, an interventional cardiologist at the Montréal Heart Institute. Doctor Ibrahim decided that Louis was the ideal patient for the Watchman Left Atrial Appendage Closure device.
Finding the right treatment
“They told me they were putting an umbrella into my heart!” says Louis. The Watchman, which does in fact bear a striking resemblance to a miniature umbrella, is about the size of a quarter. It’s implanted into the left atrium of the heart and significantly reduces the risk of strokes by preventing blood clots from travelling to other parts of the body like the brain or lungs. “The Watchman LAAC implant is a medical device designed to occlude the appendix, a small finger-like cavity attached to the superior part of the heart [atrium],” describes Dr. Ibrahim. “[This atrium]…tends to cause medical problems, such as clot formations in the heart. Clots tend to form in the appendix because it’s a dead space with stagnant blood (in patients with heart rhythm disturbances) causing poor and unsynchronized contractions. Dislodgment and migration of the clot is a catastrophic event and causes strokes most of the time.”
The procedure for this one-time implant takes only about an hour and is ideal for patients who have irregular heartbeats but can’t tolerate blood thinner medication. “Louis was a good candidate because he suffers from atrial fibrillation. His condition was at high risk of a cardio-embolic stroke,” explains Dr. Ibrahim. “Atrial fibrillation is a very common condition affecting at least 1 percent of the population and nearly 10 percent after the age of 80 years. It’s the number one cause of stroke.”
In September of last year, Louis received the implant. “It took a few months to recover but I now have lots of stamina and energy,” says Louis. “I am very happy with the results. I would strongly recommend it. It has given me a whole new perspective on life!”