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Stroke-Prevention Device Studied in Utah Available to Patients

Andrea Smardon
Trial participant and actor Wilford Brimley with Dr. Brian Whisenant, Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute cardiologist

A life-saving, stroke-prevention device is available this month for the first time to Utah patients. The device has been tested in clinical trials by scientists and cardiologists at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray.

For decades, people with atrial fibrillation have been taking medication to prevent blood clots from forming in the heart. Cardiologist Pete Weiss at Intermountain Medical Center says some patients don’t always like taking the medication or can’t tolerate blood thinners because of other medical issues.

“There is a significant risk of life threatening bleeding, that can cause mortality as well as serious injury,” Dr. Weiss says. “Because of that, the dislike of using these medications, as well as patient preference, somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 percent of patients in the United States with atrial fibrillation who should be getting treated with stroke prevention, are getting no treatment at all.”

Patients now have the option of getting a device called the WATCHMAN implanted. It’s shaped like a parachute and is permanently inserted by catheter into the left side of the heart. Clinical trials show the device significantly reduces the risk of stroke. One of the patients taking part in the trials was Wilford Brimley. The 82-year-old actor said he’s happy, healthy, and he only has to take 2 aspirin a day.

“I probably ought take this opportunity to in public thank the Lord, Dr. (Brian) Whisenant, and all those kids on this team cause the worst thing they did to me was save my life, and improve the quality a hundred fold,” Brimley said.  

The US Food and Drug Administration approved the WATCHMAN for general use after reviewing data from studies at Intermountain Medical Center and more than 60 other US centers. Medicare payment approval is expected in the coming days.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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