It was at the bedside of a close friend who was battling a serious medical condition that 74-year-old Russell Miller made a vow that he would make his health a priority. The then 289-pound Mr. Miller began his journey at NYU Winthrop Hospital in 2009, and today, the Mineola resident, who is now 80 pounds lighter and has overcome a host of cardiac medical issues, is grateful for the revolutionary medical care he has received at the Hospital to make that possible.
"I attribute my good health today to the doctors at NYU Winthrop and following their orders to live healthfully in my senior citizen age," he said.
His journey simply began with a visit to NYU Winthrop internal medicine specialist, Anthony Calio, MD.
"Dr. Calio spent over three hours with me that day," recalled Mr. Miller. "I thought to myself, 'does this man do this with everyone?' He demonstrated a level of attention and care unlike anything I had experienced before."
Follow-up appointments and tests with various Hospital specialists ensued, and in time, Mr. Miller found himself calling upon the experts in the Hospital’s Division of Cardiology, under the leadership of Kevin Marzo, MD, Chief of Cardiology, to address medical issues related to coronary artery disease and Atrial fibrillation (AF). AF is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related issues.
Though he was able to manage his AF with medication, Mr. Miller wondered if there were any other options for treatment. Traditional medications for AF are anti-coagulants, or blood thinners, which also carry the increased risk of bleeding. (Mr. Miller has severe arthritis that requires medications that cannot safely be taken in conjunction with these blood thinners).
He read an article about a minimally invasive and state-of-the-art technology offered at NYU Winthrop – The WATCHMAN™ Left Atrial Appendage Closure Device – and was instantly intrigued. The WATCHMAN is designed to reduce AF patients' risk of stroke while providing an alternative option to long-term anticoagulation medications (blood thinners) or open heart surgery.
After careful consideration, Mr. Miller met with his doctor, Joseph Germano, DO, Director of NYU Winthrop’s Atrial Fibrillation Center, to determine if he was a candidate. Dr. Germano had previously operated on Mr. Miller, implanting a pacemaker/defibrillator to treat Mr. Miller's cardiomyopathy (weak heart) and congestive heart failure.
"For patients with atrial fibrillation, preventing a stroke is a top priority, since blood clots can form as a result of the irregular heartbeat," said Dr. Germano. "With the WATCHMAN device, we now have a minimally invasive way to target and eliminate blood clots where they start."
The WATCHMAN, which lasts a lifetime once it is implanted, is delivered to the heart through a catheter that is fed through a femoral vein in the leg. The parachute-like device is then deployed in the area of the heart that tends to develop blood clots (the left atrial appendage), and the self-expanding frame seals off the appendage, effectively closing off the site where the clots can form. The procedure lasts about an hour and a half, and most patients can expect a one to two-day hospital stay while recovering.
NYU Winthrop has been a leader in the implantation of this technology. In fact, the Hospital was selected as a "WATCHMAN site" by the Boston Scientific Corporation (the manufacturers of the device) because of its exceptional and comprehensive cardiac care program and experience with similar procedures in the upper chambers of the heart.
To implement the program, NYU Winthrop assembled a highly skilled team that includes cardiac electrophysiologists including Drs. Joseph Germano and Sameer Parekh, as well as cardiac imaging specialists, Drs. Beevash Ray and Todd Kerwin. In addition, a dedicated team of electrophysiology nurses and technicians, cardiac anesthesiologists, cardiac surgeons and coordinators each play a vital role in the evaluation, treatment and recovery of patients who undergo the procedure. The NYU Winthrop team was recently joined by Dr. Erik Altman, another experienced WATCHMAN implanter.
"WATCHMAN represents a paradigm shift in how we are managing stroke prevention in patients with AF," said Dr. Parekh. More than 50 patients have been treated with the WATCHMAN since launching the program in 2016.
Since undergoing the procedure, Mr. Miller has been able to successfully come off one of his blood thinner medications, and the former swimmer is now looking forward to returning to the pool to resume aquatic physical therapy, which he finds helpful in relieving everyday knee pain.
Grateful for the WATCHMAN procedure and for all those at NYU Winthrop who have helped him in his pursuit of good health, Mr. Miller couldn’t be happier with the outcome of his care at NYU Winthrop.
"WATCHMAN was a godsend," he said, adding, "And I have NYU Winthrop to thank for that."
Individuals with AF who wish to explore alternatives to long-term blood thinners should ask their cardiologist if they are candidates for the WATCHMAN device. For more information about cardiac care at Winthrop, call 1-866-WINTHROP or visit www.winthrop.org.