The Game Changer

CHRISTUS Spohn Health System debuts a new minimally invasive heart valve procedure, which may very well be the future of cardiology.
By: Steven Alford

Three years ago, 92-year-old Evelyn Nicol’s heart began to weaken. She lost energy and stamina, and worse yet, she lost hope when she was advised she was too elderly to be considered as a candidate for open-heart surgery.

But a new minimally invasive procedure only offered at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Shoreline has added years to Nicol’s life. It’s called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR for short. The new procedure is best suited for patients who are not ideal candidates for traditional heart-valve replacement procedures. And it could just be the future of cardiology.

“Our hearts are beating over 120,000 beats per day, every day, over the course of our lifetime,” said Dr. Srikanth Damaraju, a cardiologist who practices at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Shoreline. “Like anything else, it eventually wears out over time.”

Nicol suffers from dengerative heart disease, or simply put, her heart and its valves were just wearing out, Damaraju explained.

The heart’s valves are three tiny flaps, which look similar to a peace sign and open and close to regulate blood flow. Plaque can clog the arteries and valve, reducing the size of the heart’s valves from that of a one-inch pipe to nearly the size of a pinhole, Damaraju explained. Over time, the body’s wear and tear slows down the valve’s abilities to do their job, which, in turn, decreases blood flow, energy and overall health.

“It was always a strain trying to breathe,” Nicol recalled during an interview with a news crew. She said she sometimes she felt dizzy or weak, and that she feared the end was near.

Her physician suggested that she learn more about CHRISTUS Spohn’s new procedure, which forgoes opening the chest to access the heart, an operation that can cause complications for patients such as seniors who are already weakened.

Instead, doctors run a tiny artificial heart valve through a vein in the groin, up into the aortic chambers of the patient’s heart. The new valve is put in place and begins working as good as new, and recovery time for patients is far less than traditional open-heart procedures.

Nicol is the first patient to undergo the new valve-replacement procedure at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Shoreline. And several more patients have received the artificial valve since. “I felt sort of excited,” Nicols shared with KIII-TV News while sitting in her apartment overlooking Corpus Christi Bay. “I’m 92 years old, and now I’m going to live for a while longer. What am I going to do with that time?”

The new procedure is a game-changer and likely will be the standard operation within the next decade, according to Damaraju. “There’s much less risk involved with this procedure,” Damaraju explained during an interview at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Shoreline. “Right now we’re looking to improve the lives of our elderly patients, but I suspect this will soon be the standard for all ages.”

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