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Heart Patient Gets New Lease on Life

Learn how the new WATCHMAN heart device saved 78-year-old Gary Least’s life.

February 21, 2020
Gary with his wife
Gary and his wife in Rochester.
Gary on his boat
Gary on his boat in Florida.
Gary in the hospital
Gary recovering at the hospital.

Gary Least smoked and drank most of his life. Like many car salesmen, he “was under extreme pressure all the time,” Gary recalled over the phone from his home in Florida.

So, when Gary witnessed his son’s car collide head-on with a school bus outside of his auto dealership one morning in 1991, it sent Gary’s heart into overdrive.

“I got to the wreckage, pulled him out and got him off to the hospital,” now 78-year-old Gary explained. “I started feeling chest pains when we arrived at the hospital. Soon after, I had a heart attack.”

As he recovered from his heart attack, Gary learned that he had a heart condition called atrial fibrillation.

What is Atrial Fibrillation

Known commonly as AFib, atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm that arises from the top chambers, or atria, of the heart. 

AFib significantly increases the risk of stroke. It causes blood to pool in the Left Atrial Appendage (LAA), where blood can stick together to form a clot and then travel anywhere in the body. If the blood clot travels to the brain, it can cut off the blood supply and cause a stroke.

Blood clot in left atrial apendage

Blood thinners are typically used to prevent blood clots from forming, but they significantly increase the risk for serious or life-threatening bleeding.

Many patients, like Gary, have difficulty staying on blood thinners due to their health history or lifestyle.

Since his heart attack nearly 30 years ago, Gary recalls having “five or six” bypass surgeries, several stents put in, and chest pains up to three times a week for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. But the blood thinners were doing the most damage.

"I was told the blood thinners were going to kill my kidneys, of which I only have one…” Gary said. “So, about eight months ago, I was introduced to Dr. Depta, and he told me about the WATCHMAN procedure.”

WATCHMAN: A Lifesaving Procedure

WATCHMAN is a one-time procedure that implants a permanent medical device into the Left Atrial Appendage (LAA). Once implanted, the LAA is closed and the WATCHMAN prevents blood clots from forming.

WATCHMAN is currently the only FDA-approved alternative to the blood thinner Warfarin that reduces stroke for patients with AFib.

Learn more about WATCHMAN and AFib

“When I learned about what the WATCHMAN could do, I was happy to come off blood thinners and reduce my risk of blood clots,” said Gary.

“I have three grandkids. WATCHMAN has helped me stay healthy and help me live longer so I can see them grow up.”

Jeremiah Depta, MD, Interventional Cardiologist at Rochester Regional Health, and his team have performed over 200 WATCHMAN procedures since the program began in 2016—the highest number completed in Western New York. 

“To be able to offer patients a safe procedure that can drastically reduce the risk of stroke and get them off blood thinners is very gratifying,” Dr. Depta said.

“When you’re younger, that risk of bleeding is less. But as you get older or if you have other medical conditions, the risk of bleeding can be substantial. Often, patients on blood thinners are trading the reduction in stroke risk for the increase in risk of major or life-threatening bleeding. The WATCHMAN device provides an alternative.”

With a new lease on life, Gary is advising other AFib patients to consider the WATCHMAN procedure.

“Do it, absolutely do it. I was surprised at how easy the procedure was, from learning about it to getting the procedure done,” Gary said. 

“For years, I had problems walking around. I would tire quickly, and it was difficult to climb onto my boat, which I live on. Now every day is easier. I feel good, and I have the confidence to feel like I can do more.”

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