Last year, 82-year-old Nicholas Valant “felt like a boomerang” going in and out of the hospital.
He was constantly tired and his lungs were surrounded with fluid. Both symptoms were related to aortic stenosis, which is the shrinking of the heart’s aortic valve.
That changed on December 6, his 82nd birthday.
“This is a miracle,” said his wife Audrey Valant, 80. “He’s a completely different person.”
Nicholas Valant is one of a couple dozen patients who have had the new transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure, also called TAVR, at Grand Strand Medical Center.
If it wasn’t for them, maybe I wouldn’t be here.
Used to expand the aortic valve, TAVR has been commercially available in the U.S. since 2011, but was not offered at Grand Strand Medical Center until November of 2016.
“I’m pretty lucky,” said Nicholas Valant. “If it wasn’t for them, maybe I wouldn’t be here.”
The procedure uses a catheter to insert a new aortic valve in a patient’s heart. The catheter is inserted into an artery through an incision in the groin and delivers the collapsible stent. A balloon inflates for around five seconds, expanding the stent inside the old valve where it remains while the catheter is removed.
Someone like Mr. Valant who’s already had open-heart surgery, you can image the toll that his body would take if you’re trying to go back in and saw his chest back open.
Dr. Jimmy Kontos
“Traditionally, in order to fix a tight valve, the only option was surgical, so you had to replace it,” said Dr. Jimmy Kontos, who helped preform the procedure on Valant. “Basically cut it out and then sort of suture in a new one. And that encompassed open-heart surgery. Now it terms of this procedure, we’re still replacing the valve but we’re not taking out the old one. We’re putting a new one inside of the old one.”
The procedure works well for older patients because it’s minimally invasive compared to open-heart surgery and has a shorter recovery time.
“When it first came out, it was for patients who were deemed too high risk,” said Kontos. “They would never survive surgery. Someone like Mr. Valant, who’s already had open-heart surgery, you can image the toll that his body would take if you’re trying to go back in and saw his chest back open. There’s already scar tissue, already has bypasses there, he has a defibrillator, a weakened system that’s been in the hospital multiple times.”
He’s like himself again.
To qualify for the procedure, patients must be deemed “high-risk” by two cardiothoracic surgeons, and younger, healthier patients are generally not good candidates.
According to Dr. James Hadstate, who also helped with Valant’s procedure, there isn’t enough data on the long-term effects of the procedure to perform it on younger patients who would have no problem undergoing the time-tested open-heart surgery.
Kontos said that had Valant undergone open-heart surgery, his recovery would have taken months. Instead, Valant had the procedure done on a Tuesday and was home by Friday.
“You heal real quick,” said Valant. “My life has improved, I can do things now.”
Valant’s wife said he no longer takes naps all day.
“He’s like himself again,” she said.
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian