GREENVILLE, S.C. – Blaine and Linda Price have been sharing their hearts on Valentine’s Day ever since he asked her out for a date at an A&W Drive-In in 1962.
But this year’s Valentine’s Day will be a little different after the couple both underwent a heart procedure last winter at Prisma Health designed to reduce the risk of stroke for patients with atrial fibrillation, commonly known as AFb. AFib is an abnormal heart rhythm from one of the top chambers of the heart called the left atrium. Erratic electrical signals result in an irregular and often fast heart rate. Patients may feel a sensation of palpitations or fluttering in their chest, shortness of breath, or fatigue as a result. It can cause stress on the heart and adversely affect heart function. Even more concerning with AFib is the associated risk of stroke due to blood clots forming in the heart from sluggish blood flow, most notably in an area called the left atrial appendage.
“I was the guinea pig for it last January,” said Linda Price. “But I immediately saw the results and felt so much better that I encouraged Blaine to do it as well.”
The “it” was a procedure that placed a small device known as the Watchman in both of their hearts.
Chetan Patel, MD, FACC, performed the procedure for both Prices and is one of the lead physicians for the Watchman device procedure for Prisma Health’s Carolina Cardiology Consultants. Prisma Health doctors began using the Watchman in 2017.
“Watchman is an option for people with AFib not caused by a heart valve problem who are at a high risk for stroke and need an alternative to long-term blood thinners, which includes a variety of different reasons,” Patel said.
The device is a one-time permanent implant designed to seal off the left atrial appendage (a small pouch off one of the top chambers of the heart) where blood clots most commonly form with AFib. As a result, sealing this area off reduces the risk of stroke. The procedure is done in the cardiac catheterization lab through a large IV placed in the right leg, on average takes about an hour and usually only requires an overnight stay in the hospital. The expected recovery time is minimal, and most patient are walking the halls later that same day. After Watchman implant, patients are kept on their blood thinner for at least 45 days while the plug “heals” in place. Implant success rates are more than 95%.
Andrew Brenyo, MD, who is an electrophysiologist with Carolina Cardiology Consultants, said AFib is the most common cause of stroke in the country. As a result, stroke prevention is the most important element of atrial fibrillation therapy, especially because strokes from Afib are more likely to be debilitating strokes.
But heart problems weren’t on the then Linda Hoyle’s mind in 1962 when she saw Blaine Price pull up to the A&W in Forest City, North Carolina in his 1953 Chevrolet. The car had so much trouble stopping and starting, he had to leave it running so he could run up to her to ask her for a date. His heart was fluttering at that moment for a different reason. She said yes, they were married in April 1964, and moved to Greenville the next day where he worked for Daniel Construction.
They spent their first few years in Greenville before moving to the Powdersville area where they raised their two children and now get to dote on six grandkids and one great-grandchild with another on the way.
It has been a happy life, and they said the secret to a strong marriage has been honesty and listening to the other person. They have a habit of finishing each other’s sentence, and they joked about the equality of their marriage.
Each has had a stroke and neither one wants to break that tie, which is part of the reason they both undertook the Watchman procedure last winter.
The Prices said the device has worked well for both of them. They are glad to be off of blood thinners.
“We would recommend this to anyone who qualifies,” he said.
Patients who are interested in learning more about the Watchman procedure should talk to their provider to learn if they are a candidate. More information about Watchman is available here.