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Heart Health: New procedure got one man back on the ice, off blood thinners

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Posted at 2:47 PM, Feb 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-02 14:47:58-05

Being on the ice can be a calming affect for some. The exercise, the sound the blades make as they cut the frozen water.

For Mark Way, 67, of Williamston, playing the game of hockey came later in life. When he was 54 years old.

Growing up in Detroit, Way always had a love of the sport, but never played. When his son, was 10 and wanted to play, Way ended up lacing a pair of skates of his own.

“When my son started playing hockey here in Lansing, they needed somebody to skate around and shoot the puck,” Way said. “I figured I could do that as well as any other.”

Way ended up getting together with some of the other fathers and coaches, and started to skate with them. When he turned 57 years old, he started to play on a league. He loved the game and it was something that helped lift his mood.

“I’m not really a good hockey player, but psychologically it gives me something to do,” Way said. “My metal health was much better than when I wasn’t playing.”

When he turned 60, Way had a mini-stroke, and two years ago he had an Afib, or an irregular heartbeat while in the rink.

“I was skating and I started to get winded,” Way said. “So I went off the ice, got back on and the same thing happened. It was something I could have ignored.”

Way spoke to his cardiologist, and learned of his condition. He was placed on blood thinners and was not able to play hockey for risk of cutting or other injuries due to the medication.

While he was at Sparrow Hospital, Way’s physical therapist told him of a new procedure her mother had, called a Watchman.

A world of difference

The Watchman is a device that looks a bit like a jellyfish. It is surgically placed in a pouch in the upper left chamber of the heart, where 90-percent of Atrial Fibrillation occurs, Dr. Guarav Dhar, Cardiologist at Sparrow, explained.

Dhar said that if the heart is not contracting properly, there is a risk of blood stopping and not flowing smoothly. This increases the risk of a clot, and if the clot breaks off it can cause a stroke.

One of the previous ways to prevent this was the use of blood thinners, but those increase the risk of bleeding.
“(Blood thinners) are a good treatment, but unfortunately they work by thinning the blood,” Dhar said. “With this new procedure, we go into that little ouch where all 90-percent of strokes lead, and we plug you.”

The Watchman procedure was first done at Sparrow Hospital in December of 2015, and now Sparrow is one of the leading hospital in Michigan performing the procedure.

Dhar explained that there are roughly 200 facilities nationwide performing the Watchman. In Michigan, Dhar said the closes facility that could perform this procedure is roughly 65 miles away, and Sparrow is in the top three in the state.

“We are more experienced…and we have done this more than most people have,” Dhar said. It is nice for our community to have this technology available, as opposed to having to drive for hours to a place to have it performed.”

For Way, having the Watchman performed was a game changer. He was able to get off blood thinners and back on the ice after roughly six months.

“It has made a world of difference, especially with my mental health…my quality of life,” Way said. “I am having fun and I am one of the older guys still playing hockey. I love it.

“It was about getting back to playing hockey and sticking around for my wife and kids. Taking care of myself as best I can, which we all should be doing.”

What to do during a heart condition

When some get the symptoms of having a heart attack or other irregularity of the heart, they do not know what to do. Some will drive themselves to the hospital, which could be dangerous.

Some of the signs of a heart attack include chest pains and arrhythmias in the chest. Dhar said that it is not a good idea to drive yourself to the hospital for help.

“If you are having a heart attack or a bad arrhythmia, you could pass out while driving,” Dhar said. “It is not only you that is going to get hurt. There are people on the street, people walking and they are all at risk.”

Dhar and Sparrow Hospital officials say to call 9-1-1 in the event of a heart attack.

“Plus, (if you call 9-1-1) you will be able to get in quicker and won’t have to go through the ER,” Dhar said. “They will take you directly to the backside where you need to be seen.”

Events for Heart Health Month

As February is Heart Health Month, Sparrow is hosting several events to raise awareness. Community members can also call 1-800-Sparrow to schedule a free heart screening.

Here are some events happening for Heart Health Month by Sparrow:

* Friday, Feb. 3: Wear Red Day to show support and awareness of women’s risk of heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of women.

* Tuesday, Feb. 14: Sparrow and Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital in Charlotte host a free heart health event, featuring lunch, a presentation on cardiovascular disease, especially in women, and cardiac rehabilitation, screenings and educational information. The featured speaker is James A. Schafer, M.D., from Sparrow Thoracic Cardiovascular Institute. The free program is from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at AL!VE, 800 W. Lawrence Avenue, Charlotte. For more information or to register, call 517.541.5800, option 1.

* Thursday, Feb. 23: A free lunch and learn presentation will be held at Sparrow Ionia Hospital, 3565 S. State Road, Ionia. Come learn why having high cholesterol can place you at risk for developing heart disease and learn ways to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level. Lunch will be served at 11:45 a.m., with a noon presentation. To register, call Sparrow Ionia Cardiology Services at 616.523.1356.