An irregular heartbeat. That's what the doctor noticed when Dorenda Hubbard went in for her monthly health checkup. Test results pointed to a malfunctioning heart valve, which caused her to experience symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath.
Hubbard, who was in her mid-80s at the time, was not a candidate for traditional open-heart valve replacement surgery, given her advanced age. Doctors instead turned to an innovative and minimally invasive technique known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure, or TAVR.
"The first time I saw my cardiologist he told me that my heart won't last too long, maybe a couple of years," says Hubbard. "That's when I started to think, 'I am never going to get rid of this shortness of breath, so let me take the chance and let the doctor operate.'"
The heart is like the body's pump — keeping oxygen-rich blood flowing to our organs so that they have the energy to work properly. Heart valves keep blood flowing in the right direction. These valves sometimes become narrowed, as in the case of aortic stenosis — in which the valve leaflets calcify, or harden, preventing the valve from opening normally. The narrowed valve opening makes the heart work harder to move the blood, which over time can cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness. The only cure for aortic stenosis is to replace the valve.
With TAVR, doctors place a prosthetic valve into the heart through a tiny opening in the leg artery. Once correctly positioned inside the patient's narrowed valve, the new prosthetic valve functions normally, allowing blood to pass from the heart into the circulatory system and out to the rest of the body.
"This procedure is ideal for high-risk patients, due to their advanced age or medical history," says Dr. Payam Mehranpour, an interventional cardiologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. "It's wonderful to see patients who've had TAVR feel well enough to sit up or converse only a few hours after the surgery."
For Hubbard, TAVR has reduced symptoms and enabled her to be more mobile.
"I went back to the assisted-living facility after surgery," says Hubbard. "My doctor said I could use the walker, so I did and I made it. It was quite a long walk to the dining room. I only had to use the wheelchair for one day. I had great faith in my doctor, and so far, the surgery has worked."