TMC becomes second hospital in the U.S. to perform groundbreaking heart procedure

Updated: Apr. 9, 2021 at 11:01 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -Tucson Medical Center (TMC) is paving the way for a new life-saving procedure. Two weeks ago, it became the second hospital in the U.S. to perform a groundbreaking heart surgery.

The national collaboration has added more time to a Tucson man’s ticker.

82-year-old Donald Dixon has a big heart; physically and figuratively.

“Absolutely, he’s great,” said his wife, Cathy. “I thought I was going to lose him several times, so this is just a blessing.”

Dixon has atrial fibrillation. It’s an irregular heartbeat that can cause blood clots, even a stroke. He’s been taking blood thinners for 14 years, but the treatment nearly as bad as the condition. Dixon relied on several blood transfusions to survive and suffered from internal bleeding in 2020. He felt the end was near.

“We are talking months, not years,” Dixon said.

TMC’s cardiology team didn’t skip a beat when it came to helping him.

“He had come to me in the hopes that we could perform a Watchman procedure,” said Dr. Neil Gheewala, a Structural Interventional Cardiologist.

It’s a permanent implant that closes a sac in the left chamber of the heart where blood clots typically form. However, due to the size of Dixon’s heart, the Watchman device was too small.

So, Dr. Gheewala looked elsewhere. Using his connections to researchers across the country, he landed on the LAmbre. It’s similar to the Watchman, but comes in bigger sizes.

Dixon received the new implant under “Emergency Compassionate Use” from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Dr. Gheewala says the surgery was successful.

“The Data Monitoring Safety board is going to be monitoring the outcomes of this procedure,” he said.

Now, Dixon has a pep in his step and more time on his side.

“It’s going to take something else to get me,” he laughed. “Because [these heart problems] I think are going to be behind us.”

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