Lynn Troutman of Fernwood, Mississippi thanks Our Lady of the Lake Cardiologist Dr. Bill Helmke with a kiss on the cheek for saving her life.
“It’s a club.” That’s what a small group of patients said about themselves Wednesday night as they gathered together to mark the first anniversary of a highly-specialized procedure that allowed them to have open-heart surgery without the open-heart surgery.
“If we hadn’t had the procedure, we wouldn’t all be here,” said Francis Bowling of Holden. She was one of 27 patients to have received a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, over the past year. Bowling joined 11 other TAVR patients on Wednesday who traveled from across the state, some from as far away Mississippi, to reunite with the doctors, nurses and medical staff who saved their lives.
“This is the rewards of what we do,” said Dr. Bill Helmke, cardiologist with Our Lady of the Lake Heart & Vascular Institute and member of the TAVR team. “To see our patients gathered together like this is a rare and wonderful opportunity. The most gratifying part is to know that, not only are they living longer, but their quality of life is improved, and through a much simpler operation.”
The minimally-invasive procedure is used to replace a narrow or diseased valve in the heart without surgeons opening up the chest. Instead, a balloon-expandable heart valve is inserted into the body through a tube-based delivery system that enters through a small cut in the thigh or rib cage.
“TAVR represents a breathtaking advance in the way heart surgery is performed,” said Helmke. “The procedure is easier on patients, offers shorter recovery times, and is a new option for treating patients who may be too ill or frail to endure traditional open-heart surgery.”
T-Bruce Dubroc from Cottonport credited Dr. Helmke and the TAVR team for saving his life. “My mama had the same kind of heart problems as me, only the doctors couldn’t do anything for her back then. I would have been dead in December if not for these docs and this operation.”
The first patients of a special heart valve replacement procedure unite in recognition of the one-year anniversary of the procedure at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.
Narrow or diseased heart valves can restrict blood flow and create symptoms of chest pain or shortness of breath, which can lead quickly to heart failure and be life-threatening. According to the American Heart Association, as many as 1.5 million people in the United States suffer from aortic stenosis and have symptoms that can restrict normal day-to-day activities such as walking short distances or climbing stairs.
“It used to be I couldn’t even walk across a room,” said Jim Lucius of Baton Rouge, who was celebrating the one-year anniversary of his procedure on the night of the reunion. “Now I can walk a couple of miles. Before this procedure, I’d had nine bypasses going all the way back to the 1980s. My doctor told me I was one of the unhealthiest people he knew. But since having the TAVR, I feel like a whole new person.”
Another patient, Joe Folse of Denham Springs, received his heart valve replacement only six weeks before the reunion. “I’ve had several surgeries over the years, and this was nothing. It was a piece of cake.”
Patients with damaged heart valves who do not receive an aortic valve replacement have no effective, long-term treatment option to prevent or delay their disease progression. Without treatment, severe aortic stenosis is life-threatening.