GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Horses have been a way of life for Green Bay’s Patti Warmenhoven for as long as she can remember. 

“It’s pretty much been for a lifetime,” Warmenhoven said.  “Harvey, my brother, and I had horses when we were kids. We would camp with them, take them to Lake Michigan and do a lot of things.” 

That way of life was put in jeopardy several years ago when Warmenhoven was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation or AFIB.   

“What happens with AFIB is chaotic activity of the electricity in the heart,” explained Dr. Kristopher Selke, medical director for Aurora BayCare Medical Center Cardiology.  “The top chamber and bottom chamber beat, but they’re not synchronized. So, since there’s desynchrony, that allows blood to clot in the heart, and that is where the stroke risk comes from.”  

To minimize that stroke risk, AFIB is often treated with blood thinners.  Selke says, in Warmenhoven ‘s case, though, that was not the best treatment plan.  

“Lifestyle decisions impact this as well,” Selke said.  “Patti has the lifestyle factor of being a horseback rider. So, the propensity to be on blood thinners in that situation is not good.” 

Not good, because the risk of even a minor injury could become life-threatening.  

“What it really comes down to is trauma,” Selke explained.  “If you fall off the horse and hit your head, or hit any organ, you could get uncontrolled bleeding.” 

Instead, Selke and a multi-disciplinary team of colleagues at Aurora BayCare decided to use a WATCHMAN™. The tiny device is implanted directly into the left appendage of her heart in a minimally invasive procedure, effectively blocking what could be a dangerous pathway.  Aurora BayCare is the only hospital in Northeast Wisconsin that has both the WATCHMAN™ and Amulet™ atrial occlusion devices. 

“That device seals off the appendage and doesn’t allow blood clots to move and circulate through the heart or go up in the brain and causes stroke,” said Selke.  

He says within a month and a half a layer of skin grows over the device, becoming part of the patient’s body.  

That means Warmenhoven and her horse, Houdini, can be back up to their old tricks again without the worry of a life-threatening fall. 

“It’s a little bit of a psychological thing,” Warmenhoven explained.  “If you’re worried about getting hurt, the horse feels that stress. It inhibited some of the things I would want to do with him.”  

Warmenhoven is riding Houdini along another trail these days; on a journey through breast cancer. Halfway through treatment, Warmenhoven says having the WATCHMAN™ means she doesn’t have to worry about being on blood thinners while undergoing cancer treatments; giving her the strength and courage to be back in the saddle again. 

“I’m definitely looking forward to getting back in the saddle,” she chuckled.  

From routine heart health to life-threatening conditions, Aurora BayCare offers heart expertise right here in Green Bay.  If you’d like to make an appointment, call 920-288-9800.  You can also take an online heart risk assessment at: