CHI Health Nebraska Heart offers non-invasive aortic valve replacement

LINCOLN, Neb. - Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States.

Cardiologists perform a TAVR procedure on a low risk patient. (Source: CHI Health Nebraska Heart)

One way heart disease manifests itself is through aortic valve stenosis.

"Aortic valve stenosis means the main valve for the heart is narrowed, calcified and doesn't open well," said cardiologist Dr. Anu Tunuguntla.

Nearly 1.5 million people suffer from aortic valve stenosis. When it goes untreated, 50% of patients die within two years.

Previously, the main way to treat aortic valve stenosis was through open heart surgery. Now, there's something less invasive. It's a procedure called TAVR.

"TAVR, or Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement is a procedure used for patients who have symptomatic aortic valve stenosis," Dr. Anu said.

TAVR involves a small incision in your groin, where a valve is fed through your femoral artery up to your aorta. It expands, and opens it back up.

Previously, TAVR was only available for people who were not healthy enough to undergo open heart surgery. Recently, the FDA approved it for low risk patients.

This week, CHI Health Nebraska Heart performed its first TAVR procedure on a low-risk patient. This procedure also happens to be the 600th overall TAVR procedure Nebraska Heart has performed.

"We started doing TAVR in December 8 years ago, and Dr. Wudel was instrumental in bringing it here," Dr. Anu said.

Bob Parker was the first low risk patient to receive TAVR at Nebraska Heart.

"I used to get super winded and tired really easily," Parker said. "I went to see my doctor and he said he heard a heart murmur. I had a heart catheter, but he told me it was time to get it replaced."

Parker said he was scared to have it replaced, because he thought it would mean open heart surgery.

With TAVR, Parker was up and walking around his room just hours after surgery. With open heart surgery, recovery can take months.

"Dr. Anu asked me if I wanted open heart surgery or TAVR, and I said, 'Definitely TAVR,' and she said, 'Funny, no one ever seems to pick that option.'"

TAVR normally takes between 45 minutes and an hour. Most patients are able to go home the next day.

"I feel really really good," Parker said. "I was up and wandering all down the halls asking when I could leave."

With the new FDA approval for low risk patients, Dr. Anu said more people are going to be able to have less invasive heart procedures.

"High risk was only about 8%, intermediate risk was about 12% and low risk is about 80% so it's a game changer for us," Dr. Anu said. " I really feel like with this option, the quick recovery, the low risk of complications, it really becomes a question of who is not a candidate for TAVR, which is very few patients."

Nebraska Heart performs about 100 TAVR procedures every year, and said patients can usually schedule the procedure within a month.