Replacing a heart valve used to be an extremely complicated procedure, mostly because it involved open-heart surgery. But that’s changed due to a new surgery, first offered commercially in Florida at Lee Memorial Health System.
A function of aging, aortic stenosis is a stiffening of the heart valve. Symptoms include pressure and tightness in the chest, dizziness, fainting, and in advanced cases, shortness of breath or congestive heart failure. It is a one-way progression, more deadly than cancer.
“Your survival could be less than 50 percent in two years when it becomes very severe,” says Dr. Steven Priest, a cardiologist on Lee Memorial Health System's medical staff.
There was little hope for people with advanced cases,
“These patients sometimes aren’t even referred to cardiologists because they’re elderly and their family doctor thinks they’re not a candidate for open surgery, which previous to this was the only treatment,” says Dr. Priest.
But a new procedure, called TAVR, for transcatheter aortic valve replacement, is simplifying heart surgery.
“It’s placement of a new aortic valve utilizing the same sorts of materials that are available through standard operation, but now delivering it by a catheter into the position and blowing it up by a balloon,” says Dr. Brian Hummel, a cardiothoracic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System's medical staff.
Traditional surgery meant opening the chest, and putting the patient on a heart-lung machine while a new valve was sewn in. Instead, TAVR goes through an artery in the groin, making it safer and faster.
“Patients come to the operating room very ill and to see the immediate change in blood pressure to see their oxygenation change almost instantaneously, you feel like you’ve really done something,” says Dr. Hummel.
Getting to the heart of the matter quickly may offer a new lease on life.