A New Valve With No Open Heart

9/24/2008 ST. LOUIS, Mo. Mary Ann Cahalin has been a Girl Scout for 43 years!

"We camped, we did hikes. We did everything," Cahalin said.

As camp nurse and certified trainer, she couldn't afford to slow down. But everything changed when Cahalin's deteriorating aortic valve made it nearly impossible for her to breathe -- let alone get around a camp site.

"I was starting to tell people, don't count on me for this program or that program because I don't think I'll be there," Cahalin said.

Because of her age and poor condition, she wasn't a good candidate for open-heart surgery to replace her valve.

"The problem is this particular problem, aortic stenosis," John Lasala, M.D., Ph.D., an interventional cardiologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., told Ivanhoe. "The narrowing of this valve frequently occurs in elderly populations. Their age alone will give you a very high mortality."

But now, a new, minimally invasive procedure to replace the aortic valve is taking away the risks associated with open-heart surgery.

"I believe this is a monumental breakthrough," Dr. Lasala said.

During the procedure, a catheter is inserted through a small puncture in the groin. The new aortic valve -- made from the heart tissue of a cow -- is sewn inside a metal stent, then fed up through the catheter and into the heart. The stent pushes the patient's faulty aortic valve to the side and holds the new valve in place.

"We're seeing a very low complication rate, much lower than what we'd see in surgery and such a short recovery time they don't have the opportunity to develop a lot of the post-operative complications we might see," Dr. Lasala explained.

Cahalin was one of the first people in the United States to have the new procedure done. The results were instant.

"The first thing you could see was number one she was smiling and second thing was that she was just full of color again," Dr. Lasala said.

"No pain, no bleeding, no incisions to take care of," Cahalin said.

Her recovery was so easy, not only was she up and around the house soon after … she was back out at the camp ground!

"I had no trouble walking from the lodge to the dining hall, then back again," Cahalin said.

Camping just weeks after a heart valve replacement … if only there was a patch for that.

Diane Duke Williams
Washington University School of Medicine
(314) 286-0111


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