New procedure eliminates need for long-term blood thinning medication, offers peace of mind

Do you have atrial fibrillation (AFib)? Most patients who suffer from AFib’s irregular and often rapid heartbeat receive a prescription for daily blood thinning medication. That’s because the average person with AFib is five times more likely to suffer a stroke than someone with a regular heartbeat. Blood thinner medications help prevent blood clots from forming, and thus prevent strokes from occurring. While the anticoagulant medications surely save lives, lifelong use can add up in expense and risks.

“I see many patients who have been taking blood thinners every day for 20 years or more,” said Dr. Brett Hiendlmayr, interventional cardiologist practicing at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC). “For some patients, that works well, but others have major concerns about bleeding issues. For example, we care for patients who have a high risk of falls, occupational hazards or who live in remote areas where the consequences of bleeding events are high. For these patients, the risks associated with blood thinners may outweigh the benefits.” 

An alternative to lifelong blood thinners

Thankfully, an innovative low-risk procedure offers patients an alternative to daily use of blood thinning medication.

“It’s called the Left Atrial Appendage Occluder (LAAO), and it’s bringing peace of mind to many patients,” Dr. Hiendlmayr said.

During the procedure, Dr. Hiendlmayr guides a small parachute-shaped device about the size of a quarter to the heart through a catheter placed in the leg. Using ultrasound imaging, he places it in the left atrial appendage (LAA). The LAA is a small pouch that extends from the heart’s upper left chamber, and it’s where the majority of stroke-causing blood clots form. As the physician deploys the device, the parachute closes the LAA, thus preventing the LAA’s clots from making their way to the brain.

“Initially, the device is like a fabric mesh or net-like umbrella that plugs the space, but with time, the body forms a layer over it, which seals off the left atrial appendage,” Dr. Hiendlmayr said. “The procedure offers a solution that allows patients to go off of their blood thinning medication – and that’s a thrilling prospect!”

Innovative, low-risk procedure improves lives

Stephanie Leonardson, a Nurse Practitioner who specializes in cardiovascular disease, has witnessed the tremendous benefits that LAAO brings to patients and families.

“This procedure helps significant portion of our population – the rodeo crowd, our rural communities, police and military professionals, construction workers, the elderly and those who suffer from other diseases. In fact, our very first procedure helped a man who lives in the heart of rural Idaho who uses a chainsaw for a living. Using blood thinners for life came with way too high of a risk for him!” Leonardson said. “Patients tell me it’s fantastic because they’re able to discontinue high-risk, very expensive medication and they have greater peace of mind.”

EIRMC is currently the only facility in the region providing the procedure. With the most comprehensive cardiology and neurology services in the region, EIRMC strives to provide the most innovative and highest quality care. In fact, the facility was named among the “Top 50 Cardiovascular Hospital” in the United States in 2020 and 2021 by IBM Watson HealthTM