COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Those with atrial fibrillation (AFib) typically have to make a tough decision due to their irregular heartbeats: Take blood thinners to prevent the risk of stroke and risk bleeding, or stay off blood thinners and risk a stroke.
"The reason that people take the blood thinners is to prevent clots from forming in this little pouch in the heart called the left atrial appendage. About 90 to 95 percent of the clots that form and could cause a stroke come from this pouch," said Brad Mikaelian, M.D., an cardiac electrophysiologist at UC Health Memorial Hospital.
Now, an implant device new to southern Colorado offers a third option at UCHealth Memorial.
It's called the Watchman and it's designed to prevent clots and stroke.
Doctors say nearly 5,000,000 Americans live with AFib, and they are five times more likely to have a stroke than someone without the condition.
Doctors say AFib causes nearly 20 percent of all strokes in the U.S. each year.
"It's a small device that's placed through a catheter through a vein in the leg, up to the heart," Mikaelian said.
It's about the size of a quarter and it's then opened to form an umbrella to close off the pouch.
"Over time, over weeks and months, the heart grows a layer of skin tissue essentially over the device and that has walled off that pouch permanently," Mikaelian said.
That's when doctors say patients are able to get off blood thinners.
"I'm better, I feel better everyday. I don't want to wish away six months of my life, but I can't wait 'till that day where I'm taking no more medication other than a baby aspirin," said Charlie Coble, a patient who went through the procedure.
Doctors said it's a pretty quick recovery, but similar to any heart surgery, you have to take it easy at first.
"The only downside to it is I couldn't play golf for a week," Coble said.
So far, Mikaelian and his team have performed 18 Watchman procedures.