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Medical Advances

Repairing a Broken Heart

TAVR Procedures Offer Minimally Invasive Alternative

Aortic valve disease threatened to undo all the effort Beverly Gorham put into getting healthy. The 80-year-old Genoa, Illinois, resident had been working hard to keep off the 100 pounds she lost in her early 70s. However, over time, she began to notice she couldn’t complete her goal of 10,000 steps a day. Then, she couldn’t even make it down the block without getting winded, lightheaded and extremely tired.

The problem? Beverly’s aortic valve had thickened; her heart had to work much harder to circulate blood, and her body was getting less oxygen. Due to Beverly’s age, traditional open heart surgery to replace the faulty valve could have been risky. So, she elected to undergo a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.

“With TAVR, the aortic valve is replaced using a catheter-based technique, avoiding a major open heart surgery,” says Imran N. Ahmad, MD, medical director of Interventional Cardiology at Central DuPage Hospital. Dr. Ahmad performed Gorham’s TAVR with Gyu I. Gang, MD, surgical director of Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Central DuPage Hospital and Delnor Hospital. “With this program, our patients in the community have available a leading-edge, catheter-based therapy for aortic valve replacement that is less invasive than surgery.”

Cooperative Effort

TAVR is performed in a cardiac catheterization lab where interventional cardiologists and cardiac surgeons thread the new valve to the heart via a catheter, or tube, most often inserted in a vein in the patient’s groin area. The replacement valve is securely placed within the diseased valve and then expanded. As it expands, the new valve pushes the old valve cusps out of the way, and takes over the job of regulating blood flow.

The TAVR team at Central DuPage Hospital includes an interventional cardiologist, a cardiac surgeon, a cardiac imaging specialist, a valve clinic coordinator, a structural heart nurse and a structural heart nurse practitioner. This cohesive team meets weekly to review new patient cases, determine the best plan of care for patients and provide updates on other patients who have had TAVR.

Changing and Improving Lives

In late January 2019, Adolph Kunzelman, of Geneva, became the 100th patient at Central DuPage Hospital to undergo a TAVR procedure. The independent 90-year-old is eager to get back to his active life, which includes playing pool at the local senior center.

“I’m used to doing everything on my own, and I don’t want anything to slow me down,” says Adolph. “I’ve been short of breath and getting very tired, so it was time to get this done.”

His procedure marks another milestone for this rapidly growing program, which has led to numerous developments at Central DuPage Hospital, including a new Advanced Heart Failure Clinic and leading-edge procedures for heart rhythm disorders.

“We are excited to see excellent patient outcomes for our first 100 TAVR patients and look forward to accelerating this program at Central DuPage Hospital,” says Patrick M. McCarthy, MD, executive director of Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute and chief of Cardiac Surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “Without treatment, patients with severe aortic stenosis have a worse prognosis than many metastatic cancers. Once symptoms appear, early intervention is critical. We are proud to have pioneered this minimally invasive option downtown at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.”

“The turnaround in the quality of life is outstanding,” says Dr. Ahmad. “People who weren’t able to get out of their homes are now enjoying everyday activities.”

Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute