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Clinical trial of heart valve provides life-saving option for Loyola patients

With her artificial heart valve failing and overall health preventing her from having another open heart surgery, Carolyn Longest felt hopeless. All of that changed when her cardiologist referred her to the Heart & Vascular Medicine Center at Loyola University Medical Center (Loyola) where a minimally invasive approach was a possibility.

“Carolyn’s medical team in Joliet referred her to me because I do both open-heart operations and minimally invasive procedures,” said Michael Tuchek DO, associate professor, Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery, Loyola.

Carolyn qualified for one of Loyola’s clinical trials using a new minimally invasive technique called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). Similar to the implantation of a heart stent, the Loyola medical team inserts a catheter containing the new valve into an artery in the patient’s groin, and then positions the catheter so that the new valve can be placed inside the existing malfunctioning aortic valve.

“TAVR is one of the greatest advancements in treating patients with critically blocked aortic valves,” said Fred Leya, MD, professor, cardiology, and medical director, Interventional Cardiology, Loyola.

“Within a few days of being approved for the clinical trial, I had my procedure,” Carolyn said. “And just two days after getting my new valve I came home, on my birthday. It was quite the birthday present!”

Heart experts estimate that over the next few years, thousands of artificial tissue valves will have reached the end of their life expectancy. Untreated, a damaged valve can lead to aortic stenosis (narrowing of the aortic valve).

“Severe aortic stenosis is a life-threatening illness that is very common among people over the age of 80,” explained Dr. Leya. “If a person goes on to develop congestive heart failure, life expectancy could be reduced to a year or less. When symptoms appear, medication is often ineffective, so something must be done. Not everyone can survive open-heart surgery, which is why TAVR is such an exciting advancement.”

Loyola has formed a valvular heart disease center to evaluate patients for valve replacement or repair, either with surgery or minimally invasive techniques. The extensive collaboration, experience and expertise required among a very large, multidisciplinary team is why Loyola is one of only about 200 hospitals nationwide (out of 5,000), and one of a few in the Midwest, that is designated to perform this new procedure.

Drs. Tuchek and Leya worked side-by-side during Carolyn’s procedure, joined by another 15 medical experts. Their collaboration led to her successful outcome. They also collaborated with Carolyn’s doctors near Joliet.

“Patients can have their procedure or surgery performed at Loyola and then return to their local communities for all of their followup care, including cardiac rehabilitation,” Dr. Tuchek said. “This collaboration is very attractive to most patients.”

“I felt better as soon as I got home, partly because it was so much easier to recover than when I had my first surgery,” Carolyn said. “Now I can breathe more easily and I have more energy. I used to say I’d work five minutes and rest two hours. Now, I can work two hours and only have to rest five minutes.”

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Jim Ritter
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