94-year old Santa Monica resident Vivian Valentine has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. A new life-saving heart valve procedure done without traditional open heart surgery has given her a new lease on life.
Vivian says she now really wants to live to be 100 and continue to sing in her church choir. And her doctors say she may do just that given the procedure's success.
Like many older patients, Vivian was too frail to have conventional surgery to replace her main heart valve that was so clogged with calcium deposits it couldn't open adequately to allow enough blood to pump through her body.
As a result, she was tired, couldn't perform everyday tasks and suffered from heart palpitations and swelling in her legs.
Luckily, UCLA performed a new, less-invasive procedure that was given FDA approval last year. Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) helps prolong patients' lives for those not able to undergo traditional surgery. The new valve travels to the heart on a catheter via an artery in the groin. Once it reaches the heart, the valve is opened and immediately starts working.
Procedures like TAVR offer new options for patients who are inoperable or excessively high risk candidates for conventional open aortic valve replacement surgery. Previously these patients - often in their 80s and even 90s - had no choice but to live with a diminished quality of life or shortened life because they weren't good surgical candidates due to advanced age or illness.
"This new procedure can give older patients a new lease on life and a chance to live better longer," said Dr. Jonathan Tobis, a clinical professor of cardiology and Director of Interventional Cardiology for the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the UCLA Health System.
Tobis notes that older patients with this condition, called aortic stenosis, who couldn't undergo traditional heart surgery, previously had only a 50 percent chance of living two years after symptoms were diagnosed.
The procedure does not require a chest incision and rarely utilizes a heart-bypass machine, so fewer surgical risks are involved. Vivian is UCLA's oldest TAVR patient to date.
"These new minimally-invasive surgical techniques can really help extend and improve the quality of life for older patients who previously had few options," said Dr. Richard J. Shemin, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the Geffen School of Medicine and the UCLA Health System. "It is our goal to provide the best valve replacement device and the least invasive technology, which allows our patients to resume a more normal life."
As for Vivian, she left the hospital just three days after her TAVR procedure that was performed on Nov. 14 at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Her doctors say that her prognosis is good and that she can soon resume her regular activities.
Her son, Lynn Lawrence, who owns a beauty salon in Altadena, said he was concerned at the prospect of his mother having a procedure at her advanced age.