“If Carl had been on blood thinners it could’ve been pretty bad… Dr. Stevens saved us a lot of headaches.” –Vonnie Niederwimmer
Nearly 20 years ago, Carl Niederwimmer learned he had an irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation, after fainting in church. Soon after, he was put on a blood thinner and other medications to prevent possible blood clots, a stroke, or heart failure.
“At the very beginning, he would convert to normal heart rhythm, but about every six months or so he would have an episode,” Carl’s wife Vonnie said. “You never know when they’re going to have a blood clot.”
The next few years included several trips to the hospital. In 2003, Carl was once again admitted to the emergency department for AFib at Saint Luke’s North Hospital on Barry Road. That’s when he met Dr. Tracy Stevens, a cardiologist with Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute.
After treating Carl for many years, Dr. Stevens encouraged him to consider the Watchman device. The small permanent implant device is an alternative to blood thinners that is placed into the heart to help prevent any blood clots from forming for patients with atrial fibrillation who should be on blood thinners but can’t due to risks.
“He had medical reasons where it was very risky for him to be on blood thinners,” Dr. Stevens said. “The risk far exceeded the benefit, but without blood thinners, he wasn’t protected from stroke.”
Carl had minimally invasive surgery in early 2016 to put the Watchman device in his heart. It soon proved to be a smart and crucial move.
One day, Carl was working on his hobby making wooden toys in his shop, which he started long ago to make gifts for his grandkids. He was using a planer and accidentally sliced off the tips of his third and fourth fingers on his left hand.
“He came upstairs, got a paper towel and put it on his fingers and laid down on the kitchen floor because he was getting dizzy and light-headed,” Vonnie said. “When I got home, the bleeding had stopped, and I took him to the emergency room.”
Although Carl lost the tips to both fingers, it could have been much worse. Vonnie believes if Carl had not had the Watchman and was still on blood thinners, he would have likely had very serious consequences. Dr. Stevens agreed he could have had a very significant life-threatening bleed.
Following a speedy recovery, Carl returned to his hobby and gave Dr. Stevens one of his hand-crafted wooden trucks at his last clinic visit to show his appreciation. It still sits in her office today.
“I look at that truck and just smile.” Dr. Stevens said. “It symbolizes so much: creativity, someone so thoughtful who trusts in our recommendations… I’m grateful to be part of his care and that we have this technology and research to help all of our patients.”
Carl, who is now 85, is enjoying the holidays with his family. He enjoys staying active through physical therapy after a recent knee replacement and stays busy crafting his wooden toys year-round with the help of a strong and more protected heart.