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UF Health Central Florida Heart and Vascular Center celebrates major milestone in treatment of atrial fibrillation

A significant milestone for UF Health Leesburg Hospital as the 100th patient recently received the latest-generation WATCHMAN FLX™ left atrial appendage closure, or LAAC, device. Photo courtesy of UF Health Central Florida.

A significant milestone for UF Health Leesburg Hospital as the 100th patient recently received the latest-generation WATCHMAN FLX™ left atrial appendage closure, or LAAC, device. Photo courtesy of UF Health Central Florida.

Group photo
A significant milestone for UF Health Leesburg Hospital as the 100th patient recently received the latest-generation WATCHMAN FLX™ left atrial appendage closure, or LAAC, device.
Doctor and patient
Maria D. Baldasare, M.D., and patient, Philip Martin.

UF Health Central Florida is celebrating the 100th procedure using the latest-generation WATCHMAN FLX™ left atrial appendage closure device. The procedure was performed at UF Health Leesburg Hospital by interventional cardiologist Maria Baldasare, M.D.

“The WATCHMAN procedure is a way in which we can take people off blood thinners and still protect them from stroke,” Baldasare said. “Patients get a similar benefit as if they were taking an anticoagulant, Eliquis or warfarin for example, but without that bleeding complication that may occur.”

UF Health Leesburg Hospital was the first in Lake County to offer the device designed to treat patients who develop a potentially dangerous heart rhythm condition known as atrial fibrillation, or AF. An estimated 7 million Americans are affected by AF — an irregular heartbeat that can feel like a quivering heart. People with AF have a greater risk of stroke than those with normal heart rhythms.

Baldasare’s patient, Philip Martin, 82, of Summerfield, Fla, received the 100th WATCHMAN device. Martin is a cancer survivor and his own father died from a massive stroke. He was diagnosed with AF last year, at the same time he was diagnosed with cancer and was prescribed a daily blood thinner.

“When they mentioned there is something to catch the block clots, that perked my ears up a bit,” said Martin. “I never know when I’m in AF. I asked Dr. Baldasare when am I in AF and she said you’re in it right now.”

He learned about the WATCHMAN procedure a few months ago and the benefit it provides in not having to take a daily blood thinner.

“A lot of our patients, especially those who live in The Villages, are very active,” Baldasare explained. “They play pickle ball and other activities and it can be quite hazardous if they’re on a blood thinner. So from a physician satisfaction standpoint, it is actually gratifying to see them do what they like and not be in fear of falling or having a head bleed for example. For the patient, it’s the ultimate return to their quality of life, especially for Mr. Martin. We don’t have to worry about him bleeding and having to come into the hospital all the time.”

The WATCHMAN FLX™ device, built upon the most studied and implanted left atrial appendage closure device in the world, is an alternative to the lifelong use of blood thinners for people with atrial fibrillation that is not caused by a structural heart valve problem (also known as nonvalvular AF). Several UF Health Central Florida cardiologists use the WATCHMAN device, including:

  • Sujata Balulad, M.D.
  • Maria Baldasare, M.D.
  • Christopher Jones, M.D.
  • David Lew, M.D.
  • Satish Goel, M.D.
  • Srinivas Attanti, M.D.

“UF Health Central Florida is proud to offer a world-class heart and vascular program, which provides immediate access to highly sophisticated treatment options and exceptional care to our patients,” says Heather Long, M.S.N., chief executive officer at UF Health Central Florida. “We strive to be this region’s premier destination for advanced cardiovascular services and the WATCHMAN FLX™ device provides potentially life-changing stroke risk treatment.”

The WATCHMAN FLX™ device closes off an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage to keep harmful blood clots from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing a stroke. By closing off this area of the heart, the risk of stroke may be reduced and, over time, patients may be able to stop taking blood-thinning medication. The latest-generation technology has a new design aimed at helping to treat patients even more effectively to ensure the best possible long-term outcomes.

“With the WATCHMAN procedure, it won’t change the fact Martin has AF,” said Kathy Hough, B.S.N., R.N., structural heart coordinator at UF Health Leesburg Hospital. “He’ll still have AF and the device doesn’t control the heart rhythm, but it will put him at a lower risk for having a stroke. It gives patients the freedom of not having to take an anticoagulant so that they can enjoy life.”

The WATCHMAN is a permanent device that does not have to be replaced and can’t be seen outside the body. The procedure to place it is performed under general anesthesia and takes about an hour. Some patients leave the hospital the same day of the procedure. Others spend one or two nights in the hospital. For Martin, the WATCHMAN has improved his quality of life in a short amount of time.

“I feel good about it,” said Martin. “A lot of these meds are hard on your kidneys. I feel good anytime you don’t have to take a medication. And, I take a lot of medication. But, I won’t have to take a blood thinner now. That’s a huge positive for me.”

About UF Health Central Florida

UF Health Central Florida is an award-winning, not-for-profit health care system and the largest, most comprehensive provider of health care services in the region. Patients in Lake, Sumter and Marion counties are cared for through inpatient acute hospital services at UF Health The Villages® Hospital and UF Health Leesburg Hospital, inpatient rehabilitation services at UF Health The Villages® Rehabilitation Hospital, 24/7 emergency care at UF Health The Villages® Hospital Freestanding E.R. at Brownwood and diagnostic laboratory services at several locations. As a premier health care provider, UF Health Central Florida takes pride in providing progressive, innovative technology, along with building strong relationships with patients, families, physicians and residents of the communities served. Visit ufhealth.org/uf-health-central-florida to learn more.

About University of Florida Health

UF Health is a world-class academic health center that combines leading-edge research at campuses around Florida with outstanding clinical care at a network of hospitals around the state. The flagship is UF Health Shands Hospital, part of Florida’s preeminent health system, with nine adult and pediatric specialties ranked among the nation’s elite top 50 programs in the 2023-24 U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals and Best Children’s Hospitals surveys.

With main campuses in Gainesville and Jacksonville as well as satellite sites in Central Florida and several other locations, UF Health provides quality health care to patients across the nation’s third-most populous state. UF Health consists of six health colleges, 10 research centers and institutes, 11 hospitals — including two teaching hospitals and five specialty hospitals — and a host of physician medical practices and outpatient services.

Visit https://ufhealth.org/ to learn more.

About the author

Sheri Hensley
Divisional Director, Marketing & Communications

For the media

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Sheri Hensley
Divisional Director, Marketing & Communications
shen0014@shands.ufl.edu (352) 323-3278