The Watchman: Lorna’s Story

How a dedicated doctor and innovative heart device gave Lorna her life back

It was New Year’s Eve. Lorna felt her heart racing, and knew something was wrong. She had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation not long ago and could feel her heart getting out of control.

Lorna was transported by helicopter to UP Health System – Marquette where she was revived by cardioversion. In atrial fibrillation, the heart can beat rapidly and irregularly and cause a life-threatening situation. In short, the heart gets wildly out of rhythm.

Lorna was stabilized at the hospital. And it was on that night that she met Dr. Rudy Evonich, electrophsyiologist with the UPHS – Marquette Heart & Vascular team. Atrial fibrillation put Lorna at a high risk of having a stroke, as blood clots can easily form in the heart, and she was put on blood-thinning medication.

After little success with medication, Dr. Evonich would go on to recognize Lorna as a perfect candidate for the innovative Watchman procedure.

The Watchman is a Left Atrial Appendage Closure device that dramatically reduces the risk of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation. The procedure is performed in the UP Health System – Marquette catheterization laboratory.

After taking her options into consideration, and speaking with Dr. Evonich at length, Lorna opted to undergo the Watchman procedure. She said, “He never rushed us out and always let us ask as many questions as we needed. He treated us like family. He even gave us his cell number!”

Just ten days after her operation, she was feeling better than before. And three months out, she was back to raking leaves and working in her garden in Escanaba.

Her husband, Angel, said, “I was worried I would come home one day and she wouldn’t be alive. Now that fear is gone. We can go back to living life at peace again.”

Lorna (left) and her husband Angel (right)

Lorna and her husband came to the Upper Peninsula four years ago from Kalamazoo, after she connected with a long-lost brother.

The two are settling in nicely to the UP, impressed by the friendliness of their neighbors and the tight-knit community: “I remember, even, we were having a hard time finding our way to a follow-up appointment at the hospital and there was a maintenance man in the hallway. He put down what he was doing right there, and showed us the way. Everyone treated us so nicely. It’s nothing like the big cities. You’re treated like a real person, here.”

She went on, “It’s important that people realize that there are options for them. I would recommend this procedure to anyone who is a candidate.”

Dr. Evonich said,  “My vision for our program has always been to provide cutting-edge heart rhythm care for the patients of the Upper Peninsula. The Watchman is an incredible device. The procedure takes approximately one hour, and it can replace a lifetime of blood-thinning medication use. You don’t need to travel downstate or into Wisconsin to receive this kind of advanced treatment. We’re right here in the U.P.”

Before the procedure, Lorna was having difficulty walking, breathing, and getting around. At 64, she is back to gardening, visiting with friends and family, active in her church, and enjoying life to the fullest. She even visited Tahquemanon Falls recently for a mile and a half walk.

She said, “It’s like that big black cloud is gone, now. I can enjoy my life again.”

Learn more about the UP Health System – Marquette Heart & Vascular team here

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