One day Buchta felt a strange sensation come over her.
“I ran for the nearest chair, which fortunately was out of the kitchen, where everything is tile. Next thing I knew, I woke
up on the floor. My sister encouraged me to call the doctor, and they suggested the emergency room.”
Fearing the Worst
As her husband raced her to the Emergency Department, Buchta, a breast cancer survivor, began to worry her cancer had traveled to her brain. But after a full workup showed no signs of a tumor, stroke or other abnormality, her doctors were left with a mystery: What had caused Buchta to faint?
Buchta’s oncologist, an active part of her care team, sent Buchta to a cardiologist. “He listened to my chest, and before he’d even done the ECG, he said, ‘I know what’s wrong. You’re in AFib.’”
AFib, or atrial fibrillation, occurs when the electrical pulses that keep the heart beating steadily misfire, disrupting the heart’s pumping ability. Blood can pool in the left upper heart chamber and clot. If the clot breaks off and travels to the brain, it can cause an especially severe form of stroke. This is something Buchta, who had treated many stroke survivors, knew she wanted to avoid.
Buchta’s cardiologist prescribed anticoagulants, or blood thinners, to reduce her stroke risk. He also started treating her erratic heartbeat with medication.
Continuous Stroke Protection
When medications weren’t enough to keep Buchta’s heart rate steady, she was referred to Ahmed F. Osman, M.D., Broward Health Medical Center’s director of Electrophysiology. “My oncologist said, ‘He’s the best in the business. I’d send my mother to him.’ That’s all I needed to hear,” she said.
As Dr. Osman began to treat Buchta’s AFib, he also felt she might be a good candidate for the Watchman FLX.
The small device, deployed by catheter during a painless 30-minute procedure, looks like a wire umbrella and opens like a balloon. It is used to get patients with symptomatic AFib off blood thinners.
“The Watchman FLX is inserted into the left atrial appendage. It seals off the appendage completely, excluding it from the rest of the circulation.
The insert is then covered over with tissue as part of endothelialization, so there is no chance of a clot breaking off from that space,” said Dr. Osman. “About 99% of the time, we can discontinue blood thinners and have just as much protection from stroke.”
Additionally, Watchman FLX protection is continuous, unlike blood thinners, which must be stopped before and after surgery.
Expanding the Benefit
Broward Health Medical Center was the first hospital in Broward County to offer patients with nonvalvular AFib an alternative to long-term blood thinners. Since its inception, more than 300 procedures have been performed in seven years. Today, Broward Health is part of a large-scale clinical trial looking to expand the patient population eligible for the Watchman FLX.
“We are hoping that all patients who have AFib will have the chance of coming off blood thinners,” said Dr. Osman. A bonus? Because the Watchman FLX is a physical fix, it puts healthy foods such as green leafy vegetables — restricted for those taking warfarin, a common blood thinner — back on the table. Additionally, patients do not have to worry about drug interactions, even with the newer anticoagulants. Most important, the risk of any bleeding is almost completely avoided.
Buchta, who had the Watchman FLX inserted in June 2020, continues to be grateful for the support received throughout the process from both her family and Michelle, the nurse practitioner coordinating the Broward Health Medical Center arm of the trial.
“If I have any questions, I know I can bounce things off of her,” said Buchta. “I feel like I have a good chance at life now.”
Have Questions about Heart Care?
To learn more about the Watchman FLX trial or cardiac care at Broward Health Medical Center, visit BrowardHealth.org/Cardio.
First of its Kind in South Florida
Broward Health Medical Center is embarking on a very important project: The installation of a state-of-the-art, second-generation Stereotaxis magnetic navigation system in its electrophysiology lab. The first such installation in South Florida, the magnetic mapping and ablation system will allow highly accurate navigation inside the heart, said Dr. Osman.
“The extremely precise delivery of radiofrequency ablation for ventricular tachycardia — arrhythmias arising from the pumping chambers of the heart — will let us target these critical rhythm disorders with a much higher success rate,” he said. “We are excited to open this new chapter in highly specialized ablative surgery for Broward County residents.”