Couple Undergoes Watchman Heart Procedure for AFib Together

John and Joyce McNamara emerge happy and healthier from their Watchman heart surgery procedures

Close up shot of elderly man and woman holding hands in an outdoor autumn setting.

John McNamara was sitting at a lunch counter in Florida and noticed the pretty woman working the register. He winked. Joyce smiled back, and the two began dating.

More than half a century of marriage later, the couple has shared countless experiences and supported each other through triumphs and challenges. For years they have accompanied each other to medical appointments, and on more than one occasion, they’ve been diagnosed with the same health problem.

Last year, John and Joyce shared another momentous event — together they underwent an innovative and potentially life-saving heart procedure.

Diagnosed with serious heart arrhythmia

Both John, 77, and Joyce, 81, had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, the most common type of serious heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Often called AFib, atrial fibrillation occurs when the electrical impulses that control the heart become erratic and interfere with the heart’s ability to pump blood.

As a result, blood can pool in the heart and form clots; in people with AFib, clots are most likely to occur in an area called the left atrial appendage. If these blood clots travel to the brain, they can cause a stroke.

Opting for Watchman procedures

Like many people with AFib, John and Joyce both took blood-thinning medications to reduce their risk of stroke.

Because these medications can cause some people to bruise more easily, as well as raise the risk of life-threatening bleeding, the McNamaras were very interested when Scripps Clinic electrophysiologist Douglas Gibson, MD, told them about the Watchman, a newly approved implantable device that blocks the left atrial appendage that could reduce their stroke risk and possibly allow them to stop taking blood thinners.

Scripps participated in the clinical research trials that led to FDA approval for the device.

“We were happy about that because of the risk of bleeding from the blood thinners,” says John. “So we decided yes, let’s do it.”

Successful outcomes for John and Joyce

In November of 2015, John and Joyce checked into Scripps Green Hospital together for surgery to receive the Watchman. Dr. Gibson implanted the tiny, parachute-like device into Joyce’s heart, and then John’s, on the same day. The relatively short, minimally invasive procedures were performed under general anesthesia. The couple shared a recovery room overnight, and went home the next day.

Now, both John and Joyce are doing well and, as they had hoped, no longer require blood-thinning medication.