The Times West Virginian

February 27, 2014

Cutting-edge heart procedure at Mon General is saving lives

Times West Virginian

— “I used to think I wouldn’t live to be 50. Well, I made it to 50 and then some,” Pearl Walls said.

Walls is likely alive today and able to tell her story to the Times West Virginian because of a cutting-edge procedure performed at Monongalia General Hospital — a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), which was only approved for use by the FDA in 2011.

Walls is one of three patients who has benefitted from the technology that is only provided by Mon General in North Central West Virginia.

While traditionally open-heart surgery was the only option, TAVR allows doctors to go in and replace the aortic valve without opening the chest or stopping the heart.

Instead, a team of 20 specialized health professionals go in using a tiny device that is inserted through a groin vessel or a small two-inch incision. The new artificial valve is then inserted within the diseased valve.

The procedure gives patients who have been diagnosed with severe symptomatic aortic valve disease, but aren’t well enough for traditional open heart surgery, the option of surgery to replace their aortic valve.

This was never an option before TAVR.

Dr. Alexander Nagy, who serves as medical director of cardiothoracic surgery at Mon General, says that by the time patients actually develop symptoms of aortic stenosis after several years, it may be too late.

“After several years symptoms occur, including chest pain, shortness of breath and loss of consciousness,” Nagy said. “Unfortunately, when the patients become symptomatic the life expectancy is limited, and approximately half of them die within the next two years.”

While open-heart surgery is successful in cases of artery degeneration, in many of the cases, a person may be too fragile to go through the procedure, whether it be because of illness, other conditions or age.

“Now you can treat those patients, the 30 percent who are elderly or very sick, with a technology that, to me at least, is the ultimate minimally invasive approach,” Nagy said.

Assuming that a patient doesn't have any other life-threatening illnesses, following the TAVR procedure, “Their lifestyle should be very similar with somebody who has no aortic valve problems of the same age."

We truly believe that this technology, new to Mon General and new to North Central West Virginia, is capable of saving lives — many lives. And we applaud the hospital for investing resources in the technology.