Linda Brancato, with her husband, Stan, is happy she finally got the help she needed.
Linda Brancato had a heart rhythm disorder but couldn’t tolerate the medicine that normally treats it. Luckily, a physician at Good Samaritan Hospital offered a minimally invasive treatment.
As seen in the February 2021 Issue of Advancing Care. By Deborah Skolnik / Photos by John Halpern
Having spent 21 years in the fast-paced world of retail sales, Linda Brancato didn’t think anything was amiss when she began to have spells that felt like anxiety attacks. “My heart would race, and I’d get lightheaded and dizzy,” recalls the 67-year-old Monroe resident. “I felt like I had to hold on to someone or something, because I thought I could pass out.”
Life slowed down when Brancato retired, yet her spells only grew longer. A cardiologist performed a range of tests and had her wear a heart monitor. Based on data the device had recorded, she was diagnosed with paroxysmal (or occasional) atrial fibrillation, or AFib, an irregular and often rapid heartbeat.
Blood Thinners Lead to Dangerous Bleeding
During AFib, the heart’s atria (two upper chambers), beat irregularly and out of sync with its two lower chambers. Because of this, blood clots can form in the atria and can then circulate throughout the body. Depending where they end up, these clots can cut off blood supply to organs or cause a stroke or heart attack. “I was disheartened by this news,” Brancato recalls. She was prescribed a blood thinner to help prevent blood clots. However, the medication’s side effects required an alternative solution to prevent clots without the use of medication.
Answers at Last
She soon learned about a procedure where a device called a Watchman is implanted in the heart to help prevent clots without the use of blood-thinner medication.
She consulted with Gunjan Shukla, MD, an electrophysiologist at Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of WMCHealth. “I left his office with a smile on my face, knowing I was going to get the help I needed.”
Preparing for the Procedure
Two days before her implant, Brancato visited Sunandan Pandya, MD, a cardiologist at Good Samaritan Hospital.
“I performed a transesophageal echocardiogram, also known as a TEE, on Linda,” he says, “to look at the heart in detail.” He took images of her heart and paid particular attention to a pouch within the front of the heart’s left upper chamber, called the left atrial appendage, or LAA, where the majority of blood clots due to AFib form.
The Watchman would be implanted there, sealing it and preventing clot creation. After the TEE, which lasted about 30 minutes, Brancato went home to await her procedure.
The following day, Dr. Shukla performed the Watchman procedure (see sidebar). She stayed overnight in the hospital and was discharged the following day.
Brancato had a follow-up transesophageal echocardiogram, this time to ensure there were no leaks around the Watchman. Dr. Pandya also checked that the heart’s internal skin, called the endothelium, had grown over the device, covering it as expected. All looked well, and Brancato was cleared to discontinue blood thinners.
Do your research on the procedure to familiarize yourself with what is ahead. Make sure you are comfortable with the doctor you choose. — Linda Brancato
While she still manages her AFib with medication, Brancato is not currently symptomatic. Equally important, she no longer needs to worry about the possible side effects of blood thinners. “I have to give a shout-out to everyone I met during this process, from the door greeter at Good Samaritan to the nurses and doctors. I have such gratitude for my nurse coordinator, Suzanne Bartman, for checking in with me and visiting me and guiding me through the process,” she says. “They were all incredible.”