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Nonsurgical procedure helps hearts keep beating

  • Published Saturday, April 19, 2014, at 9:02 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 22, 2014, at 5:57 a.m.

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever said something like:

“Cross my heart.”

“My heart’s completely in this.”

“I love you with all my heart.”

You raised your hand, right? Most of us make heart references thousands of times and never think anything of it.

But if you’re one of the millions of people in this country suffering from heart disease, your heart is more than a metaphor. And every heartbeat is a cause for celebration – or concern.

Earlier this year, Wesley Medical Center was honored to be one of only a limited number of facilities across the country approved to perform transcatheter aortic valve replacements – also called TAVR. This procedure provides patients who have narrow aortic valves, a condition known as severe aortic stenosis, and who are a high risk for open-heart surgery with an innovative, life-extending alternative.

A new lease on life for heart patients

Up to 1.5 million people in the United States suffer from aortic stenosis. Of those, approximately 250,000 suffer from severe symptomatic aortic stenosis, developing debilitating symptoms that can severely restrict normal day-to-day activities and, ultimately, lead to complete heart failure.

The only way to truly relieve aortic stenosis patients is with surgery to replace their failing valves, but only two-thirds of them actually undergo the procedure.

The remaining third are not treated because they haven’t received a definitive diagnosis or they delay or decline the procedure for various reasons. And many patients are unable to undergo open-heart surgery due to age or extenuating medical issues, which would render them unable to recover from surgery or anesthesia.

Patients who do not receive an aortic valve replacement have no effective, long-term treatment options to prevent or delay the progression of this disease.

That is, they had no options before TAVR.

TAVR – a non-surgical alternative

During the TAVR procedure, physicians place a collapsible aortic heart valve into the body through a catheter-based delivery system, which means we enter the heart through an artery – usually in the leg – instead of opening patients’ chests. By doing this, we’re limiting the need for anesthesia and lessening patients’ risk.

Once our physicians reach the failing valve, we expand the replacement valve with a balloon. It begins working immediately, so hearts never skip a beat.

So far, we’ve performed more than a dozen TAVR procedures at Wesley, and our patients have responded extremely well. These patients – who were once told no options existed to heal their hearts – are experiencing a dramatically improved quality of life.

Offering TAVR is exciting for our hospital, but it’s even more exciting for our patients, whose lives no longer have to be restricted by troubled hearts.

Omar A. Ali is a structural heart cardiologist and medical director at Wesley Medical Center’s Heart Valve Clinic.

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