No one wants a leaky valve; in their bathroom, in their car, and certainly not in their heart. Damaged or leaky valves can be very problematic, especially since there are four of them in your heart. When the aortic valve leading to your major artery narrows, a condition called aortic valve stenosis develops and it can lead to heart failure if not treated.
Valves are tissue paper-thin membranes attached to the heart wall that constantly open and close to regulate blood flow causing the sound of a heartbeat. In fact, the tissue withstands about 80 million beats a year or 5 to 6 billion beats in an average lifetime. A normal, healthy heart valve minimizes any obstruction and allows blood to flow smoothly and freely in one direction. It closes completely and quickly, not allowing any blood to flow back through the valve.
Over time, disease can erode the valves. Aortic valve stenosis is most often caused by age-related calcification, but can be caused by a birth defect, rheumatic fever, or radiation therapy. Traditionally, valves have been fixed or replaced with open heart surgery, but sometimes patients are too sick for the invasive surgery. Fortunately, there’s TAVR.
Aaron Horne, Jr., MD, MHA, MHS, calls the transcatheter aortic valve replacement life-changing. “Rather than opening up the chest, we’re able to replace the valve through a small incision in the patient’s groin area.”
During the 1-2 hour-long procedure, an interventional cardiologist, cardiothoracic surgeon, and clinical team work together to thread the catheter up the femoral artery in the groin to the heart. Doctors can also make an incision in the lower left side of a patient’s chest under the rib cage, or in the upper chest to access the heart. The new valve is crimped down to the approximate diameter of a pencil and placed on a catheter. Once in the heart chamber, the new valve is positioned directly inside the aging aortic valve where the catheter balloon is inflated to secure it in place. The valve will begin to work immediately functioning like a normal, healthy valve.
Patients usually stay in the hospital for a few days to make sure the new valve is working properly, but recovery is generally pretty easy and outcomes are very good. Methodist Health System began offering TAVR to patients who qualify in April 2016. So far, all cases have been done at Methodist Dallas Medical Center.
“The patients we treat within our health system deserve access to the best technology that our industry has to offer,” says Dr. Horne. “We have excellent healthcare providers in our system and our collective healthcare delivery network is committed to ensuring that the members of our community receive top notch care within the cardiovascular service line. This technology both saves and changes lives by keeping families and communities together.”