11 Tips to Prepare Yourself for WATCHMAN
Boomers, The WATCHMAN is a Wonderful Alternative to Blood Thinners
I’m Calling This Blog WATCHMAN Phase II
In early May 2022, my BoomerGuy underwent the surgical implant procedure called the WATCHMAN. The process was detailed in my blog from that time period, but here it is again in a much more abbreviated version.
Once you and your cardiologist have discussed your interest in WATCHMAN acknowledging the benefits and risks associated with this procedure, you will then be evaluated for your application and scheduled accordingly.
The purpose of this elective surgery is to eliminate the need for blood thinning medication, such as Warfarin and Eliquis, prescribed to help prevent stroke in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (Afib). My BoomerGuy had been on Eliquis for over six years and, frankly, it was wearing him down. Bruising, fatigue and the constant threat of bleeding were several of the major side effects.
The preparation for this surgical event is not unlike others in that the patient must adhere to a number of guidelines offered by their cardiologist and the hospital. On the day of admission, you are escorted into pre-surgical prep. All vitals are taken along with introductions to the team, including your anesthesiologist. Your cardiologist is present to address any last-minute questions and concerns.
This is considered minimally invasive surgery, yet anesthesia is still required. A catheter is inserted, normally in the groin area, and is tipped with an FDA approved medical device, the WATCHMAN, that is inserted into the left atrial appendage (LAA) of the heart, the area most frequently the site of blood clot formations, the main cause of stroke. Blood thinners are prescribed to minimize this risk. Once the device is in place, it is expanded to block off the appendage preventing clots from escaping into the blood stream.
My BoomerGuy was fortunate and according to his cardiologist had a “text-book” procedure. After spending the night in the hospital under the watchful eyes of the hospital nursing staff, he was released the next day then had a follow up cardiology appointment one week later where he was given a clean bill of health to return to normal activities.
NOW THE WAITING BEGINS. Phase II as I call it, is a period anytime 45 days or more where the patient must return to the hospital for another procedure called TEE, Transesophageal Echocardiogram. This is where you want to cross the goal line and score that touchdown.
Again, my BoomerGuy had to go through preadmission and clear a final COVID test, the prevalence of which is once again increasing here in southern California. Following the same process as before, he was escorted into the pre-surgical suite and prepped for his TEE. Under “twilight” anesthesia, a probe is inserted down the throat into the esophagus and placed in proximity to the heart where a transformational image is made of the LAA to determine the extent to which the heart tissue has healed over the implant. At this point, two outcomes are possible, the healing is complete and the heart tissue has grown over the implant closing off the LAA, or not.
If the healing is complete, the patient is then eligible to eliminate blood thinning medication from their daily routine. If not, the patient returns to the hospital in six months to once again monitor the healing process via a TEE. During that time, they must continue their daily dosage of blood thinning medication.
Our outcome was successful, we crossed the goal line! My BoomerGuy had his TEE and everything went perfectly. The healing was complete and following the procedure, his cardiologist told him he was effectively and immediately off blood thinners. YAHOO!!! What a relief. The wait was finally over and the drive home couldn’t have been more joyous. And, yes, you can return home the same afternoon.
SO, AT THE END OF THE DAY…the question you need to ask your cardiologist, is this the right strategy to maintain or improve your heart condition and your overall health. Those are precisely the questions and discussion points my BoomerGuy had with his cardiologist. This is definitely not a ‘one size fits all’ program, and to be sure, a great deal of due diligence is required before you and your healthcare provider pull the trigger to move forward.
As always, I like to provide some insight from personal experience, and this topic certainly could use that. Here are 11 helpful tips on what to expect with WATCHMAN. These are what worked for my BoomerGuy and me—we hope they work for you, as well.
- Don’t hesitate to consult with your cardiologist as many times as necessary to feel comfortable understanding the WATCHMAN benefits and risks, expectations, and their qualifications to perform this procedure.
- With the current rise in COVID cases, make certain your hospital of choice is not overburdened with COVID patients, otherwise, it might be difficult to find a bed for your overnight stay following the WATCHMAN. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider and hospital coordinator.
- Inasmuch as the WATCHMAN is considered minimally invasive, it is still surgery under anesthesia. There is a recovery time requiring an overnight stay in the hospital. Acknowledge this fact and start preparing your body and mind with a daily exercise routine, get in shape, stop bad habits, read everything there is on the WATCHMAN, and have a driver available to escort you home following release from the hospital.
- You will receive a set of guidelines to follow about a week prior to admittance. These will apply to pre- and post-surgery. FOLLOW THEM PRECISELY! Don’t think you know more than your healthcare professionals—they have your best interest at heart. No pun intended.
- Once you finish Phase I of the WATCHMAN, the 45 day wait begins until you have your TEE. During this period you should resume an exercise program and adhere to a sound diet. Don’t let this valuable time slip by without making the most of your productivity. Personally, we feel being active is important for the heart to rebuild following the procedure. It worked for us.
- Continue to follow your medication regimen during this 45 day period, as recommended by your cardiologist.
- Stay active during the day and get plenty of quality sleep at night.
- For my BoomerGuy and me, the 45 day wait was the most difficult part of the procedure. In our case, it was actually 54 days due to scheduling issues. The anxiety and uncertainty of not knowing and wondering if your name was going to be added to the list of successful outcomes was pretty daunting. So, we followed my recommendation in #3 above, and we exercised virtually every day, kept our diet intact, fed our mind with good thoughts and good reading, we stayed away from the daily news feed since so much of it is negative, and we maintained our distance from crowds and gatherings to minimize the risk of being touched by COVID. During this time you will undoubtedly second guess yourselves if you’ve made the “RIGHT” decision to go WATCHMAN. My BoomerGuy will tell you, have the faith because it was definitely the “RIGHTER” decision for him and us.
- It was important to achieve small milestones during this time, so we prepped a special calendar and checked off the days when we had coffee together in the mornings. These little check boxes showed progress, which is exactly what you need during this time. It’s like checking off the 12 days before Christmas, only slightly longer.
- Following your TEE, your throat will be irritated and sore. We found when you’re able to consume liquids, ice cold Arizona Green Tea was just perfect to sooth the achy throat. Upon your return home, you can gargle with salt water, and then, I know it’s off the diet, but ice cream or sorbet is the best. A small amount please. You’ll be good in a day or two.
- After you receive the outstanding news from your cardiologist that your healing was complete and you can discontinue blood thinners, thoroughly enjoy your ride home and celebrate with the family on your achievement. WAY TO GO WATCHMAN, ANOTHER SUCCESS STORY!!! And now going forward, your pill box has one important missing ingredient, your blood thinner medication. CONGRATULATIONS!!! YEAH!!!
For my BoomerGuy and me, this was a long journey. We began it in early September 2021 and had to cancel because of the high incidence of COVID OMICRON cases here in southern California. We then made the decision in mid-April to move forward when COVID began to wane. Phase I of the WATCHMAN was performed on May 5th and we just had the TEE Phase II on June 27th.
And yes, I use the third person pronoun, “we.” If you have a significant other they will be along for the ride also, so it becomes a “we” effort.
Thank you to the highly trained and professional healthcare providers at our local hospital for providing the excellent standards of care for the WATCHMAN. And thank you to our wonderful cardiologist and staff for their diligence in achieving a successful outcome, and to Boston Scientific for their FDA approved WATCHMAN device and procedure protocol.
We are definitely two GRATEFUL HEARTS.
I am your Number One BoomerGal, Connie. Stay RELEVANT AND INFORMED.