New heart implant targets risk for stroke

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A Salt Lake inventor of medical devices took a big step this week that should help reduce the risk of stroke.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, but a small heart implant could prove to be a lifesaver. It's a quarter-sized device created by Coherex Medical.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Dr. Brian Whisenant is a leading cardiologist and founder of Coherex Medical. Last week, he supervised the world's first human implantation of this potentially life-saving device in New Zealand. He calls the operation a great success.

"It was quick. It was easy. He went home the next day," Whisenant said. "It's been about a week now. He's doing great, and we've dramatically reduced his risk of stroke."

In surgery, the WaveCrest Left Atrial Appendage Occluder is placed at the opening of the appendage, or LAA.

"As it is unsheathed, as it comes out of the catheter, it expands, and fills up the appendage," Whisenant explained.

In an unhealthy heart, blood clots easily form in the LAA. If those clots break loose and flow to a person's brain, stroke occurs. The LAA is a dangerous breeding ground for strokes caused by blood clots among people with irregular heartbeat patterns, known as atrial fibrillation or AF.

In surgery, the surgeon snakes the occluder from the thigh to the heart. Once in place, the surgeon anchors the device and pulls out the catheter and implantation tools.

"Over time, tissue grows over this wall and eliminates this appendage where clots form," Whisenant said, pointing to the implanted device.

15% of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation, which affects millions of Americans. -American Heart Assoc.

Richard Linder, president and CEO of Coherex Medical, says this particular risk for stroke hits home for all of us.

American Heart Association Statistics show 15 percent of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation, which affects millions of Americans yearly.

"Stroke is the No. 3 leading cause of death in the United States, the No. 1 leading cause of adult disability," he says. "This affects all of us."

Coherex aims to prove the device reduces the risk for stroke from 5 percent to less than 1 percent for patients with AF.

"If you're talking about 5 percent of the world's population over age 65, that's a lot of people and a lot of strokes we're preventing," Whisenant said.

It also reduces the use of blood thinners, which are tough on patients.

"I suspect five years from now this will revolutionize the care of patients with atrial fibrillation," Whisenant said.

Trials are underway outside the United States; trials within the country are targeted for late 2011.

LAA closure is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar annual market.



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