1,000th Watchman Procedure Patient Phyllis Forte Finds Better Quality of Life

Dr. Marcelo Branco, an electrophysiologist with Baptist Heart & Vascular Institute is pictured with patient Phyllis Forte.

Phyllis Forte has been married to her sweetheart, Ronald Forte, just known as Ron, for more than 54 years. They met when Phyllis was 17. Over the years they have built a family that includes two children, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. They lived in Germany for several years to work and spread God’s word as missionaries. Her family and her love for God give Phyllis purpose and strength. 

Phyllis has had several health setbacks in the last decade that have affected her quality of life with her family – aspiration pneumonia resulting in COPD, a bad fall that caused neck and shoulder pain, atrial fibrillation or AFib, and several other conditions. Phyllis experienced several health emergencies because of her AFib. She has had three cardiac ablations and a cardioversion. Not long after that, her doctor, Marcelo Branco, M.D., FACC, an electrophysiologist with Baptist Heart & Vascular Institute, began talking with Phyllis about options for her heart health, such as the Watchman™ procedure.

Patients who may be considered for the Watchman™ procedure have non-valvular atrial fibrillation and are at increased risk for stroke. Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat out of sync with the lower chambers, causing sporadic heart palpitations that can allow blood to idle in the left atrial appendage and eventually clot. These clots can break away and enter the bloodstream, causing a stroke. AFib patients are five times more likely to have a stroke. 

Ron and Phyllis pose.

Phyllis did not want to continue feeling the way she had been, and she wanted to lessen her health risks. The blood thinners she was regularly taking caused her to have a few serious bleeds, even from a simple scratch. Phyllis said yes to receiving the Watchman™ procedure. In April 2024, she was the 1,000th patient to have the procedure at Baptist.

The Watchman™ device is threaded through a vein in the leg and into the heart, where it is implanted at the opening of the left atrial appendage. It serves as a barrier to prevent clots from entering the bloodstream. The procedure is performed under general anesthesia in the heart catheterization laboratory and usually lasts about an hour. Normally patients can go home the same day. 

Since the surgery, Phyllis has spent her time helping around the house, canning fruits and vegetables from her garden, and enjoying her family.

Phyllis, 1,000th Watchman Procedure patient

“I have more energy now,” Phyllis said. “I’ve had no problems since the procedure, and I look forward to being able to stop taking the blood thinners.”

Phyllis credits Dr. Branco, along with the care team at BHVI, for taking such great care of her.

“Dr. Branco is awesome and has the best bedside manner,” Phyllis said. “Everyone I encountered at Baptist took such amazing care of me, including Drs. Videau and Celigoj, who I have also seen. Staff have called to check on me since my procedure. Baptist Heart & Vascular Institute is the best at heart care – the people are so caring too. I would recommend the Watchman procedure to anyone considering it.”

"I always aim to enhance the quality of life for patients like Phyllis," Dr. Branco said. "The Watchman procedure is quick, painless and effective and significantly reduces her risk for a stroke. I enjoyed seeing Phyllis in a follow-up appointment recently, and she's doing great. Those we serve at BHVI are special, and it fills my heart to help others improve their hearts."

Baptist introduced the Watchman™ procedure to Northwest Florida in 2016. For more information about the Watchman™ and other treatment options available at the Baptist Heart & Vascular Institute, visit ebaptisthealthcare.org/heart