VCU Medical Center Offering Groundbreaking Procedure to Reduce Stroke Risk

Hospital is First in The Region to Offer Lariat Procedure

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The Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center is the first hospital in the region to use the LARIAT Suture Delivery Device to treat patients with atrial fibrillation who have a high risk for stroke and are unable to take blood thinning medications.

The minimally invasive procedure uses the LARIAT Suture Delivery Device to seal the heart’s left atrial appendage – a finger-shaped pocket in the heart where clots form.  

“When a patient has atrial fibrillation, the left atrial appendage stops contracting and the stationary blood inside the pocket can turn into a clot,” said Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D., chairman of the Division of Cardiology at the VCU Pauley Heart Center. “Pieces of the clot break off and can travel to the brain causing a stroke.”    

Atrial fibrillation, the most common cardiac arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm, is a condition that results in the heart beating too fast or too slow. An estimated 2.7 million Americans have the condition and are five times more likely to have a stroke, according to the American Heart Association.  

People with atrial fibrillation have symptoms that include palpitations -- sensations of a racing, irregular heartbeat -- shortness of breath, chest pain or lightheadedness. Drug therapies typically have been used to treat the condition. However, the medication can cause serious side effects.

Cardiologists performing the LARIAT procedure use two catheters, or thin tubes, which are guided into the patient’s heart to tie off the left atrial appendage with a pre-tied suture loop – similar to a lasso.

“The minimally invasive, non-surgical approach eliminates the necessity for major surgery and potentially protects the patient against the risk of stroke,” said Ellenbogen. “We are pleased to offer our patients this type of cutting-edge, high-quality cardiovascular care.”  

Ellenbogen and his partners, Richard Shepard, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine, and Jay Koneru, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine, have performed the LARIAT procedure on three patients.

The VCU Pauley Heart Center has earned a reputation as a leader in cardiovascular care. The Pauley Heart Center is recognized nationally for its heart failure and heart transplantation programs and is one of the first hospitals to test the portable, mechanical driver — a device that can power patients’ artificial hearts and enable them to recover outside the hospital environment until a donor heart becomes available.