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Karen Boche

Bon voyage to blood thinners and risk of stroke

Karen BocheUsually an adventurous traveler, 77-year-old Karen Boche felt extremely weak and fatigued. After visiting friends, she was scheduled to fly home the following day, but she began to experience one of her occasional episodes of atrial fibrillation (AFib), or irregular heartbeat.

“I was minimizing my condition to everyone, but I really felt awful,” said Boche. “I was traveling alone and needed to walk a long distance through the Atlanta airport and I thought, how am I going to do this?” Boche made it back to Brainerd without incident, but said she’d never been so happy to be home.

Her fear centered on knowing those with AFib are five times more likely to suffer a stroke. For them, blood does not pump out of the heart as normal, and clots tend to form in the left atrial appendage (LAA). The clots can then break off and flow into the bloodstream, where they can travel to the brain.

To combat this risk of stroke, Boche, like many AFib patients, was on long-term blood thinners. Some of these medications require a monthly blood test and dietary restrictions. They also increase the user’s risk of bleeding.

Karen Boche and her husband“One evening I was making dinner for guests and just nicked my finger when cutting vegetables,” said Boche. “I couldn’t stop the bleeding. I used every Band Aid in the house. Eventually I sent my husband to the drugstore for gauze. That thing bled for two days.”

Fortunately for Boche, she saw an ad for Watchmen on Facebook. The device works by occluding the opening of the LAA, similar to a cork in a bottle, to prevent potential blood clots from forming and escaping the LAA. At her next visit to the CentraCare Heart & Vascular Center, she asked her cardiologist Jacob Dutcher, MD, about it and found she qualified for the Amulet research study. The Amulet is a novel device, similar to the Watchmen, being investigated at the Heart Center.

“These devices have shown to be just as effective, and potentially more so, than blood thinners in reducing the risk of stroke,” said Dr. Dutcher. “The implant procedure is relatively painless, low risk and in most cases, can be completed in under 30 minutes with only a 24-hour hospital stay. Most patients are amazed at how easy the procedure and recovery are for them.”

Boche received her device last February. While the procedure doesn’t cure aFib, stroke risk is reduced, and Boche no longer needs blood thinners. “I really am more at peace,” said Boche. “My AFib always seemed to happen at such inopportune times, and now I can enjoy life again.”

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