UNC is First in N.C. to Use New Minimally-Invasive Procedure to Reduce the Risk for Stroke

On Monday, June 24, 2013, the UNC Center for Heart and Vascular Care became the first in North Carolina to successfully close a left atrial appendage, which is a part of the heart where blood clots and strokes come from, using the Lariat® procedure.

UNC is First in N.C. to Use New Minimally-Invasive Procedure to Reduce the Risk for Stroke click to enlarge 78-year old Santana Ortiz of Benson, NC was the first patient in NC to undergo the Lariat procedure to reduce his risk for stroke
UNC is First in N.C. to Use New Minimally-Invasive Procedure to Reduce the Risk for Stroke click to enlarge Carolyn Hicks of Clinton, NC became the second patient in North Carolina to have the Lariat procedure to help lower her stroke risk

The UNC Center for Heart and Vascular Care is the first in North Carolina to use an innovative procedure for people at risk for stroke.

The award-winning team of heart doctors at UNC is treating atrial fibrillation (AF) patients with the new Lariat® procedure, a minimally-invasive alternative for people who cannot tolerate blood thinners. For these AF patients – who account for 25 percent of all AF patients - it can essentially eliminate their risk for stroke, which is five times more likely in AF patients.

Not only did UNC perform the first Lariat® procedure in North Carolina, they also performed the second Lariat procedure in North Carolina on the same day.  No other hospital in North Carolina offers this technology.

AF is the most common abnormal rhythm of the heart, affecting five million adults in the United States. In a person with normal heart rhythm, the heart muscle is stimulated to squeeze in rhythm by electrical impulses in the heart. Patients with atrial fibrillation suffer from a rapid and irregular heartbeat, which can cause serious complications, including stroke, heart failure and early death.

The left atrial appendage is a small sac located high in the left atrium of the heart, into which blood can accumulate and clot.  In patients with atrial fibrillation, 90% of all clots arise from here, leading to a dramatically high risk of stroke.

Paul Mounsey, MD, PhD, heart rhythm cardiologist and Director of the UNC Heart Rhythm Service says, “This collaborative procedure is a new facet of the comprehensive package of cardiovascular services provided at UNC to help each patient with their individual cardiac needs.”

Eugene H. Chung, MD, is a heart rhythm cardiologist who performed the procedure with Dr. Mounsey.  “Through a tiny incision in the chest, we guide the Lariat to the heart.  Then we essentially ‘lasso’ the appendage with the Lariat, which delivers as a suture to tie off the appendage, stopping blood flow.”

“Once blood supply has stopped, the atrial appendage withers away,” adds Dr. Mounsey.

The Lariat® device is used to 'lasso' the left atrial appendage to stop blood flow in order to reduce the risk of stroke for AF patients who cannot tolerate blood thinners.
Lariat lasso

In addition, Andy Kiser, MD, Chief, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, served as the cardiac surgeon and Alan Hinderliter, MD, performed the echocardiography, giving the physicians important, detailed images of the heart and confirming the efficacy of the procedure.

78-year old Santana Ortiz of Benson, NC was the first patient to undergo the Lariat procedure.  Sitting up and talking the next day, Ortiz is thrilled with the outcome.

“The operation went better than I thought,” says Ortiz. “I feel so much better knowing that my risk for stroke is so low, and I think my doctors did a very good job.”

Just hours later, Carolyn Hicks of Clinton, NC became the second patient in North Carolina to have the Lariat procedure.

“I was scared beforehand, but I talked with Dr. Chung about the procedure, and I felt really confident that I was in good hands.”

Just one day after the procedure, Hicks is feeling good and can make light of her ‘newfound fame’ as the second person in North Carolina to have the Lariat procedure.

“I feel famous because I feel better,” Hicks laughs.  “I am going home knowing that my stroke risk is practically gone.  That feels great.”

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The UNC Center for Heart & Vascular Care is one of the leading heart and vascular centers in the Southeast.  The center encompasses all clinical care of patients with cardiovascular diseases. Our physicians are a collaborative group of cardiologists, vascular and cardiac surgeons, and interventional radiologists, joined by a dedicated nursing staff and support personnel.


For the convenience of our referring physicians and their staff, the UNC Center for Heart and Vascular Care Open Access physician referral service facilitates consultation and collaboration with our team of heart and vascular physicians, coordinates all admissions and transfers through a single phone call, and guarantees immediate acceptance for patients. Contact Open Access at 866-862-4327.

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LARIAT® Suture Delivery Device is a registered trademarked product of SentreHEART®

Please note: The LARIAT® Suture Delivery Device facilitates suture placement and knot tying for use in surgical applications where soft tissue are being approximated and/or ligated with a pre-tied polyester suture.

While it is a tool for approximating and ligating soft tissue of all kinds, but is not indicated as a treatment for atrial fibrillation or stroke reduction.