Sidcup pensioner one of first to benefit from new stroke prevention technology

PUBLISHED: 15:34 30 October 2015 | UPDATED: 15:49 03 November 2015

Harry Stapleton

Harry Stapleton


Horace Stapleton, 87, has been fitted with the Watchman device which prevents clot formation


The latest technology for preventing strokes is being pioneered at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, helping patients throughout south London and benefiting one particular pensioner in Sidcup.

St Thomas’ is one of only ten national centres that has been chosen by the NHS to evaluate left atrial appendage closure (LAAC) treatment for the rest of England.

Doctors will be implanting the Watchman LAAC device, which helps to prevent strokes for patients suffering Atrial Fibrillation - an irregular heartbeat - by sealing off the small pocket-like structure in the heart where the vast majority of clots form.

Horace Stapleton, 87, from Sidcup is one of the first to benefit from the new treatment.

After visiting a cardiologist about another condition, Mr Stapleton was given a scan which revealed a clot in his heart that could have caused a stroke.

Despite being prescribed with Warfarin, a widely-used anti-coagulant which can have other negative side-effects, he suffered a minor stroke in 2011 and was removed from the medication.

Consultants then recommended the implantation of the Watchman.

Mr Stapleton, who is an amateur actor and has starred in productions at the Edward Alderton Theatre in Bexleyheath, including Up Pompeii, Pygmalion and Antigone since the operation, said: “I’ve always been a reasonably active person who travelled a lot and engaged in local community activities, so suffering from an irregular heartbeat and having the risk of stroke hanging over me was quite traumatising.

“I was no longer able to use Warfarin and felt very vulnerable but was recommended the Watchman by a consultant, and it was fitted overnight with minimal fuss.

“Since then I’ve been able to get back to life as normal with peace of mind, knowing that I no longer have the risk of stroke and other complications that clots can cause.”

The Watchman will not be routinely available on the NHS until there is evidence that it is clinically effective, and cost-efficient.

The device works by preventing blood clots in the heart being pumped through the blood vessels to the brain, causing a stroke.

Once implanted, the Watchman device prevents any future clot formation and never needs to be replaced.

After several months it is incorporated into the heart’s wall, and sealed in by the patient’s own tissue.

The device has been proven in a large randomised controlled trial to be as effective as Warfarin without the drug’s potential complications, meaning that for stroke prevention there is now a real alternative to taking a daily drug.

An Office of Health Economics study in 2009 estimated that Atrial Fibrillation led to an estimated 851,095 GP visits, 575,000 hospital admissions and 5.7 million bed days in 2008, and the cost to the NHS is in excess of £1.8 billion.

Dr Brian Clapp, consultant cardiologist at St Thomas’, said: “This is an exciting new technology that will help us to reduce the chance of devastating strokes for our patients.

“We hope the evaluation will demonstrate the benefit of Watchman for patients so that it can be rolled out more widely.”

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