Medical Technology That Could Save Your Life

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An innovative procedure is now available to local heart patients. It’s a special type of treatment that you’d have to travel to Cleveland or Pittsburgh for…until now. The newest medical device in the Valley — called the transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR — is the size of a quarter. The tiny device that helps fix broken heart valves actually comes from cattle.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the TAVR is a valve made of cow pericardium — a membrane, or sac, that surrounds the heart. It’s modern health technology, now with the convenience of being close to home. Patricia Bolchalk got to see her grandson’s white coat graduation last month after thinking there was no way she could attend.

“When I’d iron, I’d iron two pieces of clothes and have to sit down. I’d go down in the cellar, throw a load of wash in, and have to sit down. It was like I had dropsy everywhere I went,” she said.

Bolchak needed a heart valve replaced. She qualified for the TAVR, which gave her a chance to attend her grandson’s special moment.

“I mean, there is no way she could’ve planned that and been at those events if she had had an open operation,” said Dr. Jeff Fulton, with Mercy Health.

The TAVR is less invasive than open heart surgery. The replacement valve is brought up from the groin. A balloon pushes the old one to the side and a new valve is put in its place. It immediately begins pumping blood from the heart to the body.

The procedure takes under an hour.

“The patients are up later that day eating dinner,” Fulton said. “We generally do the procedures on Wednesdays and by Friday, 90 percent are home.”

The TAVR procedure started in 2011, but Valley residents had to go to Cleveland or Pittsburgh to get it done. The Mercy Health Heart and Vascular Institute added a $2 million operating room last year so it could offer the procedure.

At the Heart and Vascular Institute, patients can get multiple opinions in one place. A primary care physician, cardiologist, and cardiac surgeon all get the same information and decide as a group what the best treatment for the patient is.

“We all work collaboratively to see the patient, identify the problems, and then discuss the potential options to take care of the patient,” Fulton said.

Bolchalk said it made her feel more comfortable.

“There always seemed to be someone interested in what was going on with me.”

Since the addition of an operating room, 84 valves have been put in place at the Institute — roughly eight per month.

“I think it’s been very well-received by the patients, a lot easier on the patient’s families. It’s easier to take care of the patient when they go home. They don’t have to travel to other locations for the procedure,” Fulton said.

That’s exactly what Bolchalk liked most — a quick recovery close to home.

“I feel 100 percent better. The breathing is good, I can go to the mall and walk the mall, I can do things that I haven’t done for quite a few years,” she said.

This little device will help her enjoy many more big events, including the birth of her fifth great-grandchild and her 60th wedding anniversary.

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