Advances in Valve Replacement Surgery Give More Patients a Second Chance

​More than five million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease every year, a staggering number, especially considering that 30% of these individuals will experience a case severe enough to require a valve replacement. For Thomas Wagner—a resident of Northern Kentucky—aortic valve disease caused a dramatic shift in his active lifestyle. He played softball and racquetball throughout his fifties until a persistent breathlessness reduced his stamina.

“When my son bought his first house, I was helping him put up a fence and got winded from digging a few holes for the posts,” said the 68-year-old. “Since I am getting older, I attributed it to age and didn’t think much about it.”

Wagner took up golf, until that began to feel overly strenuous as well. “My symptoms started gradually, but eventually I went to visit a local cardiologist and had an angiogram. I was told that within a short time I would need my aortic valve replaced.”

This diagnosis came on top of existing medical challenges, including a battle with cancer six years earlier that resulted in a kidney removal and monthly infusions to bolster his immunity. It was a painful experience, and as a result, he shied away from the thought of another surgery. At his regularly scheduled visits, the cardiologist continued to monitor the valve.

“He told me it was getting worse, but I kept putting off making this decision,” said Wagner. “The problem was that I figured I could just live with it.”

Wagner eventually had to stop playing golf and decided to set up a workshop in his basement to begin woodworking, which he loves. Even this was a strain. He could only work for an hour before tiring. By early 2020, walking up and down the stairs to his woodshop proved exhausting.

“At that point, my cardiologist said I really didn’t have a choice anymore—he said it was time. He explained that it’s like a garden hose when you pinch it shut and only a trickle runs out. That’s how little blood was getting through, and it wasn’t enough.”

Wagner sought the opinion of two local surgeons, and it was determined that his heart muscle function, or LV ejection fraction, had deteriorated and was only about 25%. It was estimated that, at his stage of disease, valve replacement could have significant risks. His son, a nurse, agreed that their local hospital was terrific, but encouraged Wagner to schedule a surgical consultation at The Christ Hospital.

“He told me they do a whole lot more of the procedure I’m going to have, and that if it’s anything to do with the heart, you go to Christ.”

In March 2020, he met with Satya Shreenivas, MD, a interventional cardiologist with The Christ Hospital Physicians - Heart & Vascular team. “Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic heart valve due to calcification," explained Dr. Shreenivas, “which for Tom had become a life-threatening problem.”

Within a week, Wagner was scheduled for a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) procedure to correct the condition. TAVR for aortic stenosis allows physicians to use a catheter-based system to deliver a new heart valve through an artery in the upper thigh for precise placement within the diseased valve, providing increased blood flow almost immediately. In the past, only elderly patients considered too high-risk for open-heart surgery were eligible for a TAVR.

“Research conducted by our cardiovascular experts has opened TAVR to a broader group of patients,” said Dean Kereiakes, MD, President and Medical Director of The Heart & Vascular Institute at The Christ Hospital. “We were one of the first programs in the country to offer this revolutionary heart procedure to lower-risk surgical candidates.”

All Wagner knows is that it was fast, and it worked. “Surprisingly, the procedure only took about an hour,” he said. “When they were wheeling me out to the recovery room, I could not believe how much better I felt and how much better I could breathe—and there was absolutely zero pain at any point.”

He stayed overnight for observation and was home the next day. “I have been telling everyone about how great the team is at The Christ Hospital—and how it’s so close to home.”

Later, after an echocardiogram, Wagner was told his heart muscle function had already improved to 55%, which is in the normal range. He said for him, it was as different as night and day. “I wish I’d have done this sooner.”

The Heart & Vascular Institute has the most experienced TAVR program in the region, providing life-saving heart valve replacement treatment, without open-heart surgery, to more than 1,500 patients.

“We are the only center in our region with an American College of Cardiology approved TAVR center,” said Dr. Kereiakes, who explained how centers that performed higher volumes of TAVR had significantly better clinical outcomes for patients, including improved survival.

Wagner said an added stressor was that his procedure was scheduled in March 2020, under the cloud of COVID-19—the same week the country and the region shut down. “I’m just so grateful they moved forward as scheduled. Otherwise, I guess I wouldn’t be here right now.”

According to Dr. Kereiakes, there is no question that COVID-19 created signif cant challenges for the medical community; however, despite the pandemic, the Heart & Vascular Institute continued to provide a consistent level of technological innovation, groundbreaking treatment options, and cardiovascular care. Wagner is now back to woodworking, playing golf, and once again helping his son with a host of home renovations.

“I don’t play softball and racquetball anymore,” he said, laughing. “That’s a bit too much." Now he spends as much time as he wants in his woodworking shop. “Last week I was down there for about nine hours.”

With his improved stamina, and his skill as an expert wood craftsman, he is producing many items—such as bowls, vases, and cutting boards—and his work is in such great demand that he is thinking about starting a small business. Most of all, he is grateful that he listened to his son’s recommendation to contact The Christ Hospital.

 “The thing is, I really couldn’t tell how sick I was until I got the procedure and felt better.” He hopes others, unsure of what to do, might benefit from his experience. “When it comes to your life, don’t be afraid to make sure you are getting the best care.”

Find a Christ Hospital heart and vascular expert near you or schedule an appointment online

Advances in Valve Replacement Surgery Give More Patients a Second Chance When simple tasks became exhausting for patient Thomas Wagner, he knew he needed to do something about his valve disease. Read what happened when he sought a second opinion with heart and vascular experts at The Christ Hospital.

​More than five million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease every year, a staggering number, especially considering that 30% of these individuals will experience a case severe enough to require a valve replacement. For Thomas Wagner—a resident of Northern Kentucky—aortic valve disease caused a dramatic shift in his active lifestyle. He played softball and racquetball throughout his fifties until a persistent breathlessness reduced his stamina.

“When my son bought his first house, I was helping him put up a fence and got winded from digging a few holes for the posts,” said the 68-year-old. “Since I am getting older, I attributed it to age and didn’t think much about it.”

Wagner took up golf, until that began to feel overly strenuous as well. “My symptoms started gradually, but eventually I went to visit a local cardiologist and had an angiogram. I was told that within a short time I would need my aortic valve replaced.”

This diagnosis came on top of existing medical challenges, including a battle with cancer six years earlier that resulted in a kidney removal and monthly infusions to bolster his immunity. It was a painful experience, and as a result, he shied away from the thought of another surgery. At his regularly scheduled visits, the cardiologist continued to monitor the valve.

“He told me it was getting worse, but I kept putting off making this decision,” said Wagner. “The problem was that I figured I could just live with it.”

Wagner eventually had to stop playing golf and decided to set up a workshop in his basement to begin woodworking, which he loves. Even this was a strain. He could only work for an hour before tiring. By early 2020, walking up and down the stairs to his woodshop proved exhausting.

“At that point, my cardiologist said I really didn’t have a choice anymore—he said it was time. He explained that it’s like a garden hose when you pinch it shut and only a trickle runs out. That’s how little blood was getting through, and it wasn’t enough.”

Wagner sought the opinion of two local surgeons, and it was determined that his heart muscle function, or LV ejection fraction, had deteriorated and was only about 25%. It was estimated that, at his stage of disease, valve replacement could have significant risks. His son, a nurse, agreed that their local hospital was terrific, but encouraged Wagner to schedule a surgical consultation at The Christ Hospital.

“He told me they do a whole lot more of the procedure I’m going to have, and that if it’s anything to do with the heart, you go to Christ.”

In March 2020, he met with Satya Shreenivas, MD, a interventional cardiologist with The Christ Hospital Physicians - Heart & Vascular team. “Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic heart valve due to calcification," explained Dr. Shreenivas, “which for Tom had become a life-threatening problem.”

Within a week, Wagner was scheduled for a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) procedure to correct the condition. TAVR for aortic stenosis allows physicians to use a catheter-based system to deliver a new heart valve through an artery in the upper thigh for precise placement within the diseased valve, providing increased blood flow almost immediately. In the past, only elderly patients considered too high-risk for open-heart surgery were eligible for a TAVR.

“Research conducted by our cardiovascular experts has opened TAVR to a broader group of patients,” said Dean Kereiakes, MD, President and Medical Director of The Heart & Vascular Institute at The Christ Hospital. “We were one of the first programs in the country to offer this revolutionary heart procedure to lower-risk surgical candidates.”

All Wagner knows is that it was fast, and it worked. “Surprisingly, the procedure only took about an hour,” he said. “When they were wheeling me out to the recovery room, I could not believe how much better I felt and how much better I could breathe—and there was absolutely zero pain at any point.”

He stayed overnight for observation and was home the next day. “I have been telling everyone about how great the team is at The Christ Hospital—and how it’s so close to home.”

Later, after an echocardiogram, Wagner was told his heart muscle function had already improved to 55%, which is in the normal range. He said for him, it was as different as night and day. “I wish I’d have done this sooner.”

The Heart & Vascular Institute has the most experienced TAVR program in the region, providing life-saving heart valve replacement treatment, without open-heart surgery, to more than 1,500 patients.

“We are the only center in our region with an American College of Cardiology approved TAVR center,” said Dr. Kereiakes, who explained how centers that performed higher volumes of TAVR had significantly better clinical outcomes for patients, including improved survival.

Wagner said an added stressor was that his procedure was scheduled in March 2020, under the cloud of COVID-19—the same week the country and the region shut down. “I’m just so grateful they moved forward as scheduled. Otherwise, I guess I wouldn’t be here right now.”

According to Dr. Kereiakes, there is no question that COVID-19 created signif cant challenges for the medical community; however, despite the pandemic, the Heart & Vascular Institute continued to provide a consistent level of technological innovation, groundbreaking treatment options, and cardiovascular care. Wagner is now back to woodworking, playing golf, and once again helping his son with a host of home renovations.

“I don’t play softball and racquetball anymore,” he said, laughing. “That’s a bit too much." Now he spends as much time as he wants in his woodworking shop. “Last week I was down there for about nine hours.”

With his improved stamina, and his skill as an expert wood craftsman, he is producing many items—such as bowls, vases, and cutting boards—and his work is in such great demand that he is thinking about starting a small business. Most of all, he is grateful that he listened to his son’s recommendation to contact The Christ Hospital.

 “The thing is, I really couldn’t tell how sick I was until I got the procedure and felt better.” He hopes others, unsure of what to do, might benefit from his experience. “When it comes to your life, don’t be afraid to make sure you are getting the best care.”

Find a Christ Hospital heart and vascular expert near you or schedule an appointment online

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