“Don’t Wait!” Advises Stroke Victim

His Important Message to Others with Atrial Fibrillation

“I started thinking about the WATCHMAN™ procedure since it first came on the market, a few years ago,” said Ed Herrelko, 77, Spring Lake, (pictured below).  

Like 2.7 million other Americans, Herrelko has atrial fibrillation (AFib). According to the American Heart Association, AFib is a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

Diagnosed more than 10 years ago, Herrelko admittedly had been “paddled back into rhythm several times before, nothing helped long-term, so I just accepted the fact that I was always going to have an irregular heartbeat.”

Herrelko’s body had different plans. One morning in the fall of 2019, while making breakfast, he couldn’t move his arm.

He was having a hemorrhagic stroke, which 75% of victims don’t survive. He was brought to Mercy Health Muskegon, where he was admitted to the ICU.

“That was the prime driver for me. I knew that since I survived this stroke, I had to get the WATCHMAN now,” said Herrelko. “I wouldn’t survive a second one.”

Herrelko spent six days in the ICU floor at the former Mercy Health Hackley Campus, then another 30 days on the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation floor right in the Hackley Campus.

After consulting with his family and his care team, Herrelko knew as soon as he was physically able to undergo the procedure, he wanted to get the WATCHMAN.

“I was the ideal candidate for the WATCHMAN.”

WATCHMAN is a minimally invasive, one-time procedure that reduces stroke risk in people with atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem. WATCHMAN fits into the left atrial appendage in someone’s heart, placed there by an interventional structural cardiologist at Mercy Health.

Ninety percent of stroke-causing blood clots that come from the heart are formed in the left atrial appendage. WATCHMAN permanently closes this part of a patient’s heart to keep those blood clots from escaping.

“The device eventually becomes a part of the person’s heart, so there is no need for replacement or any kind of maintenance for the WATCHMAN,” said Noah Thormeier, DO, interventional structural cardiologist, (pictured left) who joined the Mercy Health Structural Vascular department in July 2019.

Herrelko was one of Thormeier’s first dozen patients for this procedure at Mercy Health.

“Dr. Thormeier was really comforting,” Herrelko said, “He told me, ‘If you were my dad, this is what I would recommend you do.’ Just a really nice guy.

“They had a hard time fitting me at first, because I was in between sizes,” said Herrelko. “Now with a new flex model that they have, a lot more people will be able to get this device.”

WATCHMAN FLX Left Atrial Appendage (LAAC) device is described as a flex model for WATCHMAN and was first used at Mercy Health in March 2021.

“Now with this flex model, the broader size range of the device allows for its use among a wider range of patients,” said Thormeier.

WATCHMAN is a safe alternative to long-term warfarin therapy. It offers comparable stroke risk-reduction and enables patients to stop taking warfarin.

“It lets people with AFib live an overall better lifestyle,” said Thormeier. “They can get off blood thinners, do certain activities that aren’t allowed while on blood thinners.

“It’s my favorite procedure to offer my patients.”

As of March 2021, Thormeier has implanted this device in more than 50 patients at Mercy Health, which is quite an accomplishment during a pandemic.  

Herrelko has much to look forward to in 2021. “I’m fully vaccinated from COVID-19, I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. I’m hoping to get back out on the golf course this spring.”

If Herrelko has any advice to others with AFib, it would be, “Don’t wait until after you have a stroke to get the WATCHMAN. Look at all your options.”

Click here for more information on the WATCHMAN.

Do you know the signs of stroke? BE F.A.S.T!

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