They Don't Make Heart Surgeries Like They Used To


06.13.2017

TAVR (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement) provides a less invasive alternative for some high and intermediate risk patients.


Modern medicine has made the impossible not only possible, but almost routine. There’s a saying that “minor” surgery is only performed on someone else, but now even heart surgery is becoming less invasive.

Just 15 years ago Betty Krahmer of Poway, California had open heart surgery to repair a faulty heart valve. The procedure involved opening her chest, prying apart her rib cage and replacing her heart valve with a pig valve. She was 59 years old at the time and stayed in intensive care for a week. Her rehabilitation was arduous, requiring her to miss work as a transportation aid for special needs kids for several months.

Now 74 years old and retired, the normally active Betty was experiencing shortness of breath, a rapid heart rate, and had no energy. 

“People were telling me I wasn’t myself,” Betty recalls.

She slept in her chair because lying flat in a prone position tended to make her heart race. Her quality of life was significantly impacted.

After a heart echocardiogram, she was referred to Palomar Health Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Rod Serry.

Betty says Dr. Serry told her, “You’re between a rock and a hard place.”

Her replacement heart valve was failing. She also had a leaky Mitral valve, separate from the replacement valve. Because of her age and leaky Mitral valve, she would be at high risk for not making it through the surgery if she had another open chest surgery.

After consulting with the specialized Heart Team of Palomar Health physicians, Dr. Serry recommended Betty have what’s called a TAVR procedure, which stands for Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement. 

TAVR is a newer procedure for patients suffering from severe Aortic Stenosis who are not candidates for traditional open heart surgery. The procedure involves placing a new expandable artificial heart valve inside the native Aortic valve via a catheter inserted through a vessel in the groin. Proper blood flow is restored within the heart and the patient’s risk and length of recovery are greatly reduced.

“Before (when she had her first surgery) it took a few months (to recover). This time it was lickety split,” Betty said.

Betty’s TAVR procedure took place at Palomar Medical Center Escondido, performed by Dr. Serry. Betty raves about her care saying she loved her medical team. She said they answered all her questions and took excellent care of her.

“They get my top rating,” Betty said.

She was especially appreciative of Mary Russell, the nurse practitioner. 

“Every time I was there (Palomar Medical Center Escondido) Mary was there. She hung on to my hand all the way to the surgery room. I was perfectly relaxed and very content before surgery because I knew I was in good hands,” Betty said.

She was released from the medical center after three and a half days and was shopping a week later. 

“I saw a friend. She said ‘what are you doing in the store?’ I said ‘because I want to shop!’”

Two months after the surgery Betty says, “I’m feeling great, I’m looking great. I’m as ornery as before.”

She is now riding her stationary bike two times a day and building her stamina. She walks around the grocery store. She spends time with her family. Friends say her color has returned.

“It sure makes a big difference. I’m more of a talker. Friends are saying ‘you are busy, busy.’ I want to keep going.”

Many patients get similar results to Betty after having a TAVR procedure. Patients can expect to return to light activity within a few days and more strenuous activity within weeks. To learn more about whether a TAVR is right for you consult your cardiologist.

Palomar Medical Center Escondido has a team of medical specialists skilled in the treatment of all types of heart disease. Whether seeking surgical treatment or less invasive procedures we have the team of specialists available 24/7. If you are interested in learning more about the TAVR procedure or treatment of heart valve disease contact our Heart Valve Clinic Coordinator (Mary Russell) at Mary.Russell@PalomarHealth.org.

Photo: Palomar Health TAVR patient Betty Krahmer returned to many normal activities within a week after surgery to repair a malfunctioning heart valve.


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