Rapides Regional Medical Center has become the first healthcare facility in Central Louisiana to treat atrial fibrillation with an implantable device. The WATCHMAN, a left atrial appendage closure device, is an alternative to the lifelong use of blood thinners for patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib) not caused by a heart valve problem.

Cardiologist Kanna Posina, M.D., implanted the first WATCHMAN into Philip Cranston, 66, of Rhinehart, Wednesday morning, in the hospital’s new hybrid operating room. Electrophysiologist Poojita Shivamurthy, M.D., was also present in the hybrid OR and soon will be credentialed to perform the procedure.

Up to six million Americans are estimated to be affected by AFib, an irregular heartbeat that feels like a quivering heart. People with AFib have a five times greater risk of stroke than those with normal heart rhythms.

"This device serves as a safe and effective alternative to reduce the risk of stroke for patients with non-valvular AFib, especially those with a compelling reason not to be on blood thinners," Dr. Posina said.

A left atrial appendage closure device is designed to reduce the risk of stroke by permanently closing off an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage to keep harmful blood clots that can form there from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing a stroke. In people with AFib not caused by a heart valve problem, more than 90 percent of stroke-causing clots that come from the heart are formed in the left atrial appendage. By closing off the left atrial appendage, the risk of stroke may be reduced and, over time, patients may be able to stop taking blood thinners.

The procedure is done under general anesthesia and takes about an hour. Patients commonly stay in the hospital overnight and leave the next day. Mr. Cranston was discharged Thursday, as well as a second patient who received the WATCHMAN on Wednesday.

"Rapides Regional Medical Center is committed to providing world-class care close to home," said Jason E. Cobb, RRMC chief executive officer. "Bringing new, innovative technology and techniques expand the number of patients whose lives we can positively impact. This is another way we are providing healthcare on a higher level for our community.”