Twenty years ago, a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat, forced him to cut back on his daily activities.
Since AFib significantly increases the risk of stroke, Russell took a blood thinner, which can cause internal bleeding. The medication triggered four serious episodes of internal bleeding, each requiring a hospital stay. “I would lose up to four quarts of blood,” said Russell of each episode. He had to be “ultra-careful” not to fall, which meant limiting ladder climbing and putting a hold on bicycle riding.
In 2017, Russell’s cardiologist, Craig Werner, MD, of Northeast Medical Group, referred him to electrophysiologist James Freeman, MD, co-director, Yale New Haven Hospital Heart and Vascular Center’s Atrial Fibrillation Program. Dr. Freeman told him about a new, tiny umbrella-like metal device called WATCHMAN™. The device, implanted through a minimally invasive catheter within the heart’s left atrial appendage, prevents clots from forming in the heart and causing stroke in people with AFib. With this device, most patients can come off blood thinners and stay only on aspirin.
Russell received the device in 2017 at Yale New Haven Hospital through a minimally invasive procedure. He went home the next day.
“So many of our patients, like Russell, with AFib are at high risk for stroke, but can’t tolerate blood thinners and it is wonderful to offer them this safe and effective alternative and a chance to get back to their normal lives,” said Dr. Freeman.
Russell is back to bike riding, volunteers as a cook at the Bristol Senior Center and periodically provides construction estimates. “I have vitality that I didn’t have before,” said Russell. “I have a quality of life that is much, much better. I have my life back.”