Thousands of Patients May Be Able to Skip Open Heart Surgery

A major innovation in medicine may save tens of thousands of patients from open heart surgery, according to a North Texas doctor.

For years, a non-invasive procedure called trans-catheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, has been used to repair the heart valve in patients too high-risk for open heart surgery.

Now, the revolutionary procedure has been expanded so that more patients, younger and healthier, can reap its benefits: safer surgery (reduced complications and lower chances for infection), quicker recovery and a shorter hospital stay.

"This probably will replace surgery, not in everyone, but in most patients," said Dr. Michael Mack, national co-principal investigator for the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Mack is the medical director of cardiovascular surgery at Baylor Scott & White Health and chairman of Baylor Scott & White The Heart Hospital - Plano Research Center. 

During the TAVR procedure, surgeons thread the replacement valve through an artery in the leg. They use a balloon to push the old one aside and put the new one in its place.

Two large clinical trials show that TAVR is just as useful in younger, healthier patients.

Dennis Rosini, 76, of Dallas, was part of the trial. The procedure was recommended to him by his cardiologist who was monitoring Rosini's aortic stenosis, which is a narrowing of the aortic valve opening.

In patients like Rosini, who is relatively healthy and considered "low-risk," surgeons would traditionally perform open heart surgery.

"I was hoping for the TAVR because in the other, they split you open. They cut a couple ribs. It's a four to six week recovery time. It wasn't something I was looking forward to," said Rosini.

"The TAVR was one half hour. I was up in four hours, home in one day and I didn't have a scar," Rosini said.

Mack said patients who undergo the TAVR procedure are followed for 10 years, to see how the valve holds up.

The FDA still has to approve the use of the procedure in low-risk patients.

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