Groundbreaking heart surgery performed at Al Qassimi Hospital

New device could lower risk of stroke by 40 per cent, according to one study.

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SHARJAH // Three patients at Al Qassimi Hospital have undergone an operation to implant 'Watchman', a new device that prevents strokes by treating a common heart condition called Atrial Fibrillation (AF).

One in two deaths in the UAE are caused by cardiovascular diseases, according to the Abu Dhabi Healthcare Authority (HAAD).

The groundbreaking operations were performed on Sunday and Monday.

Dr Christoph Scharf from Switzerland, who performed the surgery, explained that AF prevents the upper chambers of the heart from pumping efficiently. As a result, blood pools in the left chamber (LAA), and can create clots that are released into the bloodstream to trigger a stroke.

Until now, AF has been treated with drugs to thin the blood, but the medication has many side-effects - including the risks of strokes and internal bleeding - and requires constant monitoring.

The new treatment involves surgery to implant a Watchman. The Watchman is a pouch that is placed in the upper chamber of an AF patient's heart to close the LAA chamber and prevent blood from pooling there.

The surgery to implant the device involves surgery through a leg vein, wherein doctors feed a hollow tube up to the heart's right atrium and puncture the wall to the LAA to implant the Watchman.

A 2009 trial of Watchman at Mayo Clinic in the US by Dr David Holmes found patients fitted with the device had a roughly 40% reduced chance of experiencing a cardiac event.

Dr Arif al Nooryani, the chief executive of Al Qassimi Hospital, said the device was a breakthrough in the treatment of heart disease, but was costly.

"Each device costs $10,000," he said. "The hospital will work with local charities to provide the service to needy patients that can't afford the cost."

The son of one of the patients to undergo the operation, who identified himself only as Saeed, said his father had ongoing heart problems and had been advised by doctors at the hospital to undergo the operation.

"We are supposed to bring him back in for check-ups every two weeks for about two months," he said. "If it works for him then he will stay with it, or they will remove it if it fails."