Intermountain Healthcare

Intermountain Dixie Regional Medical Center Performs First Minimally Invasive Heart Procedure in Southern Utah

Intermountain Dixie Regional Medical Center successfully performed its first left atrial appendage closure (LAAC), a minimally invasive procedure that can help patients who are at risk for stroke but cannot take long-term blood thinners.


St. George, UT -- (ReleaseWire) -- 01/24/2020 --Intermountain Dixie Regional Medical Center successfully performed its first left atrial appendage closure (LAAC) with the use of a device called the Watchman. This is a minimally invasive procedure that can help patients who are at risk for a stroke and cannot take long-term blood thinners.

This kind of stroke risk originates in people who have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation impairs the ability of the left atrium to squeeze the blood out effectively. As a result, blood collects in the appendage (which resembles a small pouch), increasing the risk of stroke.

During a LAAC, the Watchman device is inserted through a catheter in the upper leg where the device is guided to the heart. The device expands like an umbrella to close off extra space in the appendage and will over time be covered by the body's tissue. This device will prevent clotting and stroke without the use of blood thinners.

Intermountain has long been a leader in performing the LAAC procedure. In addition to Dixie Regional Medical Center, the procedure is performed at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City, and McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.

Cardiologist, Blake Gardner, MD, led the first LAAC procedure at Dixie Regional.

"The structural heart world is growing, and we need to be able to offer this procedure to the community," said Dr. Gardner. "Not everyone will qualify, but it can still help a large portion of our local population."

Ray Lewis, 82, is an adventurer at heart with a passion of driving side-by-side vehicles with his family.

"He doesn't listen when we tell him to slow down," said Ray's daughter, Terrisa Saenz. "It's what my dad lives for and loves to do."

Ray takes blood thinners and because of the medication, a small cut can turn into a serious bleed. Ray had to put his passion and other activities on hold because he couldn't risk possible injury. "That tells you how long it's been since I've made salsa," Ray said pointing to a healed mark on his finger.

Ray reached out to Dr. Gardner in August of 2019 about qualifying for the LAAC procedure. He was the perfect candidate and wanted to be the first patient to receive it. He is recovering quickly and is looking forward to his next adventure driving a side-by-side with his three grandsons.

If you have questions about the LAAC, please contact Cassidie Bowen at 435-251-1919.

More information will also be presented at Dixie Regional's Heart Health Seminar on February 26 from 10 a.m. to noon at 1424 E. Foremaster Drive, St. George.

About Intermountain Healthcare
Intermountain Healthcare is a not-for-profit system of 24 hospitals, 215 clinics, a Medical Group with 2,500 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health insurance company called SelectHealth, and other health services in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes and sustainable costs. For more information, see