LiveWell Patient Story: TAVR: a minimally invasive alternative to open-heart surgery
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
- Heart & Vascular
Shirley Sibbring couldn’t quite catch her breath, but that didn’t stop her.
“I just kept going,” Shirley said. “My husband couldn’t sit still, so neither did I – even if I had shortness of breath.” Shirley thought being winded was part of the natural aging process (she recently turned 86 years old), but her primary care physician didn’t.
“My doctor listened to my heart and heard a murmur – he didn’t like it. So, he sent me to the Genesis Heart & Vascular Institute,” Shirley said.
When blood flow is blocked
Shirley suffered from aortic stenosis, one of the most common yet serious valve disease problems. Caused by a narrowing of the aortic valve opening, aortic stenosis blocks proper blood flow and can lead to death.
Aortic stenosis symptoms can fall into three categories: Some patients don’t have any symptoms, some experience chest pain or shortness of breath and others experience fainting or blacking out. No matter how aortic stenosis presents itself, the heart issue comes with dangerous implications.
“Aortic stenosis is one of the most lethal diseases – more lethal than breast, colon or prostate cancer. Ultimately, without treatment, it will lead to a person’s demise,” said Atiq Rehman, M.D., Fellowship-trained, Board-certified Cardiothoracic Vascular Surgeon at the Genesis Heart & Vascular Institute.
“At my age, they weren’t going to do a huge surgery. Thankfully, they’ve figured out another way. It’s pretty wonderful”
Innovation to treat the previously untreatable
To clear the pathway for blood flowing to Shirley’s heart, specialized Genesis physicians recommended a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure.
“At my age, they weren’t going to do a huge surgery. Thankfully, they’ve figured out another way. It’s pretty wonderful,” Shirley said.
During the TAVR procedure, surgeons insert a catheter in the groin to guide instruments to the heart. Then, surgeons add a new valve without removing the existing, narrowed and diseased valve.
“You can only appreciate this procedure if you realize how far we’ve come. The standard treatment used to be open-heart surgery, which involved splitting the sternum, stopping the heart and making the repair,” Dr. Rehman said. “However, 95% of the time today, TAVR is done under local anesthetic, and it’s minimally invasive, so there’s just a needle hole left.
The beauty is, this procedure works wonderfully for patients previously considered inoperable due to their advanced age. The oldest person I’ve performed a TAVR or was 98 years old – and she had a fantastic outcome.”
“I feel better now. The shortness of breath has ended, and blood flows the right way again”
Life flows forward
The TAVR procedure at Genesis Hospital went smoothly for Shirley. Her team of highly trained cardiologists, surgeons and nurses restored proper blood flow to her heart and provided support during her recovery.
“I feel better now. The shortness of breath has ended, and blood flows the right way again,” Shirley said. “My surgery took place during COVID-19, so my husband was at home, and the nurses gave me support. My husband would call me while I was there, and we didn’t feel too far apart since we can see the hospital from our backyard.”
It didn’t take long for Shirley’s close-to-home, high-quality healthcare to transition to in-home recovery. After a few days in the hospital, Shirley was discharged. Soon after, she began a heart-strengthening regimen through Genesis Heart & Vascular Rehabilitation.
“I went to rehab several times a week for many weeks, using the treadmill, bike and other machines. I really enjoyed the program. The people who worked with and helped me were fantastic. In fact, on my last day, I made sure to take pictures because they were such a nice group of people,” Shirley said.
People make the difference
Shirley says it’s the Genesis team members who brought her comfort, calm and confidence during her surgery, recovery and rehabilitation experience.
“To me, people make a place good or bad. My doctors were dandy, and so were all the nurses and rehab folks. They were ready to find out what was happening and anxious to help me. I appreciate the hospital and all the pleasant team members,” Shirley said.