Boulder County residents now have local access to an advanced medical treatment that reduces stroke risk for people with atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common type of heart arrhythmia.

Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital is the only Boulder County provider of an innovative heart valve procedure called WATCHMAN. The WATCHMAN device is an FDA-approved implant proven to reduce stroke risk in people with AFib that is not caused by a valve problem. Having AFib can increase individuals' stroke risk by as much as five times.

A one-time, minimally invasive procedure, WATCHMAN is a permanent implant that reduces stroke risk by closing off the left atrial appendage (LAA) in the heart, where 90 percent of stroke-causing blood clots form. Doctors commonly prescribe anti-coagulants (“blood-thinners” such as warfarin) which work by decreasing the ability of blood to clot, effectively reducing stroke risk in AFib patients. However, there are potential barriers to using such drugs for certain individuals.

“The WATCHMAN procedure can be a life-enhancing option to effectively reduce stroke risk without the increased risk for major bleeding that can be associated with long-term use of blood-thinners—especially for older adults at high risk for falls,” said Dr. Srinivas Iyengar, one of Colorado's most experienced WATCHMAN specialists and head of the Structural Heart and Valve program at BCH’s Boulder Heart clinics. “It’s also an important new option for people who want to avoid anti-coagulant medications due to concerns about bleeding should they sustain a serious injury while participating in an active occupation or lifestyle.”

Dr. Iyengar, Dr. Sameer Oza and their team recently began successfully performing WATCHMAN procedures at Foothills Hospital’s advanced Cardiac Catheterization Lab. “Our patients have all recovered quickly, without noting any issues from getting the implant,” Dr. Iyengar said.

“We are proud to be the only facility in Boulder County providing WATCHMAN procedures, which can give new hope to local patients who are not good candidates for long-term use of blood-thinning medications,” said Robert Vissers, MD, president and CEO of Boulder Community Health. “BCH is committed to continually adding advanced technologies and treatments that significantly expand the range of options we offer community members with heart problems.”

With more than 100 WATCHMAN procedures successfully completed, Dr. Iyengar is the most experienced cardiologist performing this procedure in the Northern Front Range and Denver metro areas. In addition, Dr. Iyengar is the only Colorado physician certified to teach other cardiologists how to perform WATCHMAN.

During a WATCHMAN implantation, a specially trained cardiologist uses a catheter to place the device inside the heart. A small incision is made in the upper leg and the device is gently guided upward through a vein, where it permanently seals the opening of the LAA and keeps it from releasing clots. Most patients are able to go home the next day, with overall recovery averaging two to four days.

To learn more and view an animation of the procedure, visit bch.org/watchman. Watch Dr. Iyengar discuss WATCHMAN with Denver7’s Nicole Brady here.

BCH’s multidisciplinary WATCHMAN team includes some of our region’s most experienced cardiologists, electrophysiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons. All patients are carefully assessed by our expert team to determine which medications, treatments or procedures are best for each individual.

To learn more or make an appointment, call (303) 442-2395.