As one of the first patients to undergo transcatheter aortic valve replacement at King’s Daughters, Mable Tufts of Catlettsburg is the picture of the patient for whom TAVR was developed.
Mrs. Tufts had aortic valve disease, a progressive condition that affects the heart’s ability to pump life-sustaining blood and oxygen throughout the body. As the disease progressed, she felt weaker and weaker. Her health was steadily declining, to the point that she couldn’t breathe, she had no energy and she couldn’t walk more than a few steps without being overcome with fatigue.
The aortic valve is the gateway through which all blood flows from the heart to the body. The aortic valve can fail in two ways. First, it may become stiff and unable to open all the way, which limits the amount of blood that can flow through it. Or, it may not close completely, which allows blood to leak back into the pumping chamber of the heart.
In either case, patients can experience extreme shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, dizziness, heart palpitations and murmurs.
Before TAVR, the only option for someone with severe aortic valve disease was open heart surgery. For those who were extremely sick or frail, there was no option.
Mrs. Tufts and her son, Tom, were very familiar with the rigors of open heart surgery. She’d had one 15 years ago, at the age of 72. Both she and her son were certain she wouldn’t make it through another open heart.
Her cardiologist Zane Darnell, M.D., told her she’d reached the point that something had to be done. So he sent her to see KDMC cardiothoracic surgeon Robert Fried, M.D.
Dr. Fried reviewed her symptoms, her medical history and her physical condition. He agreed traditional open heart surgery would cause too much stress for her body. Dr. Fried told Mrs. Tufts about TAVR, a new procedure that would allow her valve to be replaced without an open surgery.
TAVR is performed similar to a cardiac catheterization. After the patient receives anesthesia, a balloon catheter is guided through the femoral (leg) artery to aorta and on to the aortic valve. Once in place, the physician deploys the balloon, destroying any calcification and restoring the size of the aortic valve opening.
The balloon is removed and a catheter carrying the new valve is guided through the arteries to the aortic valve. Once in place, the valve is deployed and begins working immediately.
Although she was to be among the first to have the procedure at King’s Daughters, Mrs. Tufts had no concerns. “I have faith in God first, then in the doctors and in the hospital. I knew it would come out according to God’s plan,” she said.
Mrs. Tufts had her procedure on Wednesday, May 8, and went home that Friday. By Sunday, she was enjoying a Mother’s Day dinner with her family, something she wouldn’t have been able to do if not for TAVR.
Mrs. Tufts felt better immediately. “I could feel my strength come back. I can walk. I can breathe. I was sore, but I really had no pain,” she said.
Mrs. Tufts has been following doctor’s orders exactly, walking the prescribed 15 minutes every day and is looking forward to a summer in the yard, harvesting tomatoes and enjoying her flowers.
Her son, Tom, is happy to have his mother feeling like her old self again. “I can really see a difference in her. She feels better and she’s ready to do things, unlike before,” he said.
Although, he notes, there is one thing that didn’t get fixed. “She’s just as contrary as she’s ever been."