Cone Health Offers Advanced Heart Valve Replacement
Edna Mills thought it might be her new arthritis medication. “I was blaming everything on my new arthritis medicines. I thought my problems were side effects of the steroids and things I was on.” But it was her heart valve. “I was losing my strength and was going downhill. I didn’t know my heart valve was that bad.”
Mills had aortic stenosis. Aortic stenosis is a condition where the aortic heart valve becomes stiff and loses its ability to control the flow of blood through the heart. “Aortic stenosis is somewhat common,” says LeBauer HeartCare Cardiologist Michael Cooper, MD. “It leads to heart failure, shortness of breath and light headedness. It can also reduce life expectancy.” Advanced cases require the valve to be surgically replaced, but until recently, that meant open heart surgery. But Cooper points out that not everyone can tolerate open heart surgery, “There are many elderly patients with medical problems that put them at high risk for surgery.” says Cooper. “This gives us another option where before we were very limited as to what we could do.”
Mills didn’t want open heart surgery either. “I had open heart surgery 17 years ago and I certainly didn’t want that again. It was pretty bad. It took me a lot longer to get over it and I was a lot younger then too.” She had heard about transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR. This procedure is similar to a stent placement. The artificial valve is threaded through the blood vessels and into the heart. Once in place, the artificial valve unfolds inside the existing valve pushing the old tissue out of the way. The valve then takes up the task of helping regulate the flow of blood. There is no need for the patient to be on a heart and lung machine and there is only a small cut in the groin area or in the chest between ribs. The cut allows the doctor easy access to a large blood vessel through which the replacement valve is threaded.
Mills planned to travel for the procedure but when she found out TAVR was being offered in Greensboro, she saw Cooper and surgeon Clarence Owen, MD. and became the second patient for the procedure at Cone Health. “I wanted to be close for the convenience of my family and my friends. I am a people person,” says Mills.
Cooper says it takes a lot of technology and a lot of collaboration between many people to develop a TAVR program but that it is worth it for patients. “These are people who often times are older folks. It is difficult for them to go someone else and be in the hospital three or four days. It’s a lot nicer for them and their families to stay in the community and have their procedure done here.”
The Cone Health Heart and Vascular Center has received the Society of Thoracic Surgeons’ 3-Star rating (its highest) for coronary bypass surgery for the fourth consecutive year. The Center is also ranked among the top 10 percent of programs in the nation for medical excellence in major cardiac surgery and coronary bypass surgery by CareChex®—a division of Comparion.