David Brush never realized how much the side effects of his blood thinning medications affected his quality of life – until he no longer needed them.
For years, David,72, had been living with an irregular heartbeat caused by atrial fibrillation, which occurs when the electrical impulses that control the heart become erratic and disrupt its ability to pump blood. Often called AFib, atrial fibrillation can cause fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath. It also raises the risk of blood clots in the left atrial appendage of the heart; if these clots travel to the brain, they can cause a stroke.
Scripps Clinic cardiologist Todd Hitchcock, MD, referred David to electrophysiologist Douglas Gibson, MD. Dr. Hitchcock and Dr. Gibson treated David with blood thinning medications to reduce David’s risk of stroke from atrial fibrillation. Dr. Gibson also performed a catheter ablation, a minimally invasive surgical procedure which uses heat to destroy the areas that cause abnormal electrical impulses. The procedure helped for a few years.
Unfortunately, David experienced side effects from the blood thinning medications that significantly impaired his quality of life. Moreover, his atrial fibrillation caused severe lightheadedness; on a couple of occasions, David nearly passed out. Because of this, Dr. Gibson and Dr. Hitchcock were concerned about David’s ability to safely take blood thinners over the long term.
“If David were to fall and hit his head while taking a blood thinning medication, that could be a potentially serious situation,” says Dr. Gibson.
In addition, David says the blood thinners were “a pain.”
“They were no fun at all,” recalls David, who retired from his job in high-voltage electrical construction in 2013. “The main thing was being dizzy, and they seemed to slow me down. My arms bruised from the slightest bump. If you scratch yourself, you bleed a lot, and I had trouble getting the blood to coagulate.”
Because blood thinners can raise the risk of life-threatening bleeding, David had to have blood tests every week or two to ensure he was taking the right amount.
Dr. Gibson tried giving David a newer blood thinning medication that didn’t require blood tests. Still, David felt dizzy and tired from the medication, and the bruising continued.
David‘s wife of 53 years, Dorothy, learned about the Watchman, a newly approved, implantable device that blocks the left atrial appendage. The device reduces the risk of stroke and allows patients to stop taking blood thinners.
“This is a huge deal for patients who have been on blood thinners,” Dr. Gibson explains. “Many patients experience bleeding complications related to blood thinners and have to stop taking them, leaving them unprotected against stroke. And many doctors will not prescribe these medications for certain patients because of the potential risk of bleeding.”
Scripps participated in the clinical research trials that led to FDA approval for the Watchman in 2015. Dr. Gibson and Dr. Matthew Price have implanted hundreds of the device since then. Today, Scripps is the leading site in the nation for Watchman implantation.
Dr. Gibson believed David would be a good candidate for the Watchman, and performed the surgery in February 2017. The minimally invasive surgery required just an overnight stay in the hospital.
David recovered well and discontinued the strongest blood thinners 45 days after the procedure. He stopped taking all blood thinners, except for a baby aspirin, six months after receiving the Watchman.
Since then, David says, everything has been “terrific” – especially his energy level and stamina.
“I almost have to put weights in my pockets to keep me down,” he says. “I’m not dizzy, and I really believe my acuity is better without those blood thinners. And I have regular arms again. They’re not all bruised and bloody.”
David, who used to despise walking, now walks three to five miles almost every day with Dorothy. The Carmel Valley couple spends time with their 10 grandchildren, and David often plays golf.
He would “absolutely” recommend Scripps and the Watchman to others with AFib – in fact, he already has.
“I can’t say enough about the doctors at Scripps. Dr. Gibson walks on water as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “The echocardiogram team, all the nurses for every procedure I’ve had, everyone was wonderful.”