Health Check: New structural heart program at Charlton Memorial

It's been two months since retired dentist Daniel Sullivan had a potentially life-saving procedure done at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River.

It all started with a routine visit to his cardiologist about 18 months ago.

"On a routine EKG, the atrial fibrillation was picked up. I had no symptoms of it," Sullivan said.

"Atrial fibrillation is a very common arrythmia. The biggest risk in people who have atrial fibrillation is a risk of stroke," said Dr. Adam Saltzman, who works at Charlton Memorial Hospital.

So Sullivan was put on a blood thinner.

"Shortly afterwards, I did have a bleed," Sullivan said.

Another blood thinner worked for a while, but then he said he had a more severe bleed.

That's when Sullivan was referred to Saltzman, who is the director of the new structural heart program at Charlton Memorial where the focus is on minimally invasive therapies.

"We're developing ways to help mitigate the risk of stroke in people who have atrial fibrillation," Saltzman said.

He said there's a part of the heart that's like a person's appendix, where sometimes a clot can form in people who have atrial fibrillation.

Saltzman said he uses a special device to fix the problem.

"It goes through a small incision just under the breast bone, and this lasso-like device goes over the structure we're taking about excluding. And you cinch down on it and basically that area gets excluded from the rest of the heart," he said.

There are potential risks including stroke and a catheter injury.

"He explained all the benefits and the risks and knowing that I was going to be prone to clotting and possible stroke, I elected to go ahead with the procedure because it was minimally invasive," Sullivan said.

Two months after the procedure, Sullivan said he feels great.

Beyond new minimally invasive therapies, Saltzman said the structural heart program brings together specialists who collectively will determine the best course of treatment for even the most complex coronary disease.

Soon, the program will have a new minimally invasive treatment for aortic stenosis, which is a narrowing of the aortic valve. It too involves catheter therapy.