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Irene and Rex's WATCHMAN Story

May 28, 2019
Photo of Irene and Rex Dunne

Rex and Irene Dunn were living with fear - fear of more heart problems, blood clots or strokes.

The WATCHMAN™ Left Atrial Appendage Closure Device changed everything. Designed to prevent strokes, the device allows patients with atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat, to go off blood thinners and get back to living. That is exactly what Rex and Irene did after each had a WATCHMAN device implanted in their hearts as patients at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital.

“I had no problems, no worries. I felt better immediately,” Rex said. “I have peace of mind not taking blood thinners. The peace of mind is phenomenal…I can do anything anybody else can do.”

Both Rex and Irene were part of a clinical trial when they had the WATCHMAN devices implanted. At that time, Arizona Heart Hospital was among 48 sites nationally – and the only Arizona hospital – that conducted clinical studies on the device.

The WATCHMAN device has since been approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration. The parachute-shaped device is the size of a quarter, and is implanted in the heart via a catheter through a vein in a patient’s leg.

The devices are specially designed to prevent strokes, which nationwide are the leading cause of serious long-term disability and the third-leading cause of death, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control. People with atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to develop a stroke, studies show.

The Dunn’s story is a common one. Married for 40 years, the couple had enjoyed work and raising a family but health concerns became a cloud over their lives.

Rex had suffered minor heart attacks for years. He was also taking a blood thinner, which resulted in “devastating” side effects.  He was ultimately diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which came as a surprise.

Rex enrolled in the trial at Arizona Heart Hospital, and the WATCHMAN surgery was such a success that he instantly felt better. As important, Rex went off blood thinners. The change was like night and day.

“I could see how much better he was,” Irene said.

Irene wondered if the WATCHMAN device could help her as well. 

She had been taking a blood thinner, and suffered bad nose bleeds. One particular bleed was life threatening. Irene learned that she, too, had atrial fibrillation.

“When I had the device put in, that cleared up,” Irene said. “I was able to go back to work as a massage therapist. It’s changed my life.”

“You don’t have to worry about taking medications or bleeding,” she said.

Rex, meanwhile, enjoys staying busy and helping his son with tire sales.“Our quality of life has been elevated,” he said.

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