Dennis Domrzalski , Reporter- Albuquerque Business First
About 2 million American adults suffer from atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disorder.
The condition accounts for more than 20 percent of stroke-related deaths a year, and until recently, the only real way to treat it was with blood-thinning drugs.
The problem, though, is that blood thinners can lead to fatal bleeding episodes. One anticoagulant, Warfarin, is the main ingredient in rat poison. And atrial fibrillation patients don’t like taking rat poison.
Now, though, the Heart Hospital of New Mexico at Lovelace Medical Center  is one of a small number of hospitals across the U.S. that are pioneering a new, minimally-invasive procedure that can control A Fib without drugs.
It’s called the LARIAT Suture Delivery Device, and the Heart Hospital is the only hospital in the state that offers it.
The condition involves an atrial appendage on the left side of the heart that normally contracts, allowing blood to flow in and out of it. However, in patients with A Fib, the appendage no longer rhythmically contracts. That results in sluggish blood flow that can cause blood to pool and clot. It’s those clots that can lead to strokes, said Dr. Ross Downey  of the New Mexico Heart Institute .
To fix the problem, researchers have developed a procedure where two catheters are guided underneath the breast bone into the patient’s heart. One catheter contains a pre-tied suture loop that’s similar to a lasso. It is slipped around the appendage, tied off and the appendage turns into scar tissue over time.
The procedure, Downey said, is completed through small incisions in a patient’s skin, and the patient has less pain and a shorter recovery period.
“Heart Hospital of New Mexico is proud to offer this innovative procedure that will improve quality of life for our patients,” Downey said. “Our mission is to provide cutting-edge, high-quality cardiovascular care to our patients and the LARIAT ‘lasso’ is another example of our commitment to this mission.”
Dr. Robert Federici  of the Heart Institute said, “LARIAT is a better option for people who can have it and don’t need to be on blood thinners the rest of their lives. It could be a game-changer.”
About 150 A Fib procedures are being done a year in the U.S., and so far, 1,200 have been done. The Heart Hospital has done two A Fib procedures since February.
In another first, Heart Institute Dr. Steve Henao  was the first physician in the U.S. to perform a life-saving surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
The virtually incision-less surgery used the latest stent-graft devices to repair the aneurysm from inside the patient’s blood vessel and rerouted the blood away from the aortic tear, said Heart Institute spokeswoman Martha Mowry .
The patient went home in less than 48 hours, Mowry said.
Traditional treatment for the condition involves extensive abdominal and pelvic surgery, and hospitalization lasting for a week or more. Recovery usually takes months, Mowry added.
The abdominal aneurysms are present in 1.3 percent of men between the ages of 45 and 54 and 12.5 percent of men 75 to 84. Patients with ruptures have a 10 percent survival rate, Mowry said.
First on the scene
The Heart Hospital of New Mexico at Lovelace Medical Center and the New Mexico Heart Institute have had two firsts. The facility is the only New Mexico hospital to offer the LARIAT Suture procedure to atrial fibrillation patients, and it was the first hospital in the U.S. to use a new, minimally-invasive procedure to repair a ruptured aortic aneurysm.
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