For the approximately 2.5 million Americans who suffer from atrial fibrillation, drugs and electroshock to the heart may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the innovation of a Santa Monica doctor and the wonders of modern medical technology.
Dr. Shephal Doshi has developed a device that is designed to arrest the ailment where it occurs, in the heart’s left atrial appendage.
Doshi said his heart instrument, called the Watchman, will greatly improve the quality of life for those afflicted with atrial fibrillation.
“The data shows that the Watchman can reduce the level of strokes and death in patients with atrial fibrillation,” Doshi, the director of cardiac electrophysiology and pacing at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, said in a recent interview.
During atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two small upper chambers, the atria, quiver instead of beating effectively, according to the American Medical Association. Blood is not pumped completely out of them, so it may pool and clot.
If a portion of a blood clot in the atria leaves the heart and becomes lodged in an artery in the brain, a stroke can occur. According to the association, approximately 15 percent of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation.
The Watchman is designed to permanently keep harmful sized blood clots that form in the left atrial appendage from entering the bloodstream, potentially causing a stroke.
The likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age. Three to five percent of people over 65 have atrial fibrillation.
The device, which acts as a parachute that seals the atrial appendage, was approved by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel in 2009, Doshi said.
The Argonaut first interviewed the doctor in 2007 when the Watchman was in clinical trials. Since then, approximately 2,500 patients worldwide have had the device implanted, according to the doctor.
One of the first patients who had the device implanted was the late radio and television personality Art Linkletter, the host of television programs “House Party” and “Kids Say The Darndest Things.”
Another was Playa Vista resident Nancy Beacham, who says she feels “fantastic” nearly three years after Doshi performed the procedure on her.
“For me, it was a very personal thing,” said Beacham, 67, who formerly worked at ABC.
A borderline diabetic who struggled with her weight for most of her adult life, Beacham said she was on the blood thinning medication Coumadin when she qualified for one of the early clinical trials.
“When you’re taking Coumadin, you have to eat the same kind of foods on a regular basis because of the medication,” she said. “Because I love eating broccoli and I was on Coumadin, I had to make sure that I didn’t reduce how much I was eating or it could have affected me in a negative way.”
Because Vitamin K, a fat soluble that is found in broccoli, spinach and cabbage is the antidote to Coumadin, patients taking the drug have to make sure that their diet of leafy vegetables is consistent, said Dr. Thomas Togioka, a cardiologist at Marina Del Rey Hospital.
“If a patient is eating three servings of b