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New Solution for Age Old Heart Condition: February 13, 2012

There is a new solution to an age-old problem. Aortic stenosis is a common heart ailment brought on by aging. It’s a condition where the aortic valve hardness and calcifies.

“And with loss of flexibility of the valve, blood cant push the valve aside to get out of the heart,” says Dr. Steven Priest, a cardiologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Until now there were few options to treat advanced cases.

“A patient may be aware that they have a valve problem and actually in the beginning it’s completely asymptomatic. Over even ten years it becomes very severe then symptoms develop very rapidly. Your survival could be less than 50% in two years,” says Dr. Priest.

In November the FDA approved a groundbreaking procedure to fix these broken hearts. It’s called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR. Lee Memorial Health System is the first in the state to perform it outside of clinical trials.

“As far as I am concerned I think it is the biggest advancement I’ve seen in cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery since the introduction of coronary stent thirty years ago,” says Dr. Murali Muppala, a cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

TAVR builds on technology used to open heart blockages. An artificial valve is threaded through a catheter in the groin. In the same way a stent is inserted with an angioplasty, the new valve is put into position.

“Once we position the valve in the aortic valve area and we expand the balloon so that the valve is deployed, it gets stuck there and it functions as a normal, aortic valve,” says Dr. Muppala.

A trio of local doctors are approved in the TAVR procedure. Their training was paid for by an anonymous donor who covered the startup costs. Surgery is performed in a dedicated operating theater. It takes about thirty minutes and takes the place of what used to be a ‘last resort’ open-heart surgery.

“If you take the number of aortic valve patients that we have in this country, there are almost 300,000 people that need aortic valve replacements. More than one third of them don’t qualify for any kind of surgery because they’re too sick,” says Dr. Muppala.

“A lot of these patients actually sometimes aren’t even referred to cardiologists because they’re elderly and their family doctor thinks they’re not a candidate for open surgery,” says Dr. Priest.

“But now with this introduction of minimally invasive or percutaneous valve technique they are pleased to know they have the option,” says Dr. Muppala.

Making TAVR a new procedure, giving new hope to heart patients.