In an operating room at University of Minnesota Medical Center, a team of surgeons and cardiologists held their breath.
Their patient was Patty Taylor, a mother and grandmother with a long history of cancer and related treatments that had weakened her heart. Taylor had started experiencing shortness of breath, and had been in the ICU at the medical center for a month and a half. She was suffering from aortic stenosis—a narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve.
Open heart surgery wasn’t an option for Taylor because of complications from previous operations. So Taylor; Cardiologists Greg Helmer, MD, Robert Wilson, MD, and Ganesh Raveendran, MD; and Cardiovascular Surgeon Kenneth Liao, MD, opted for an innovative Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR).
All three physicians are members of University of Minnesota Health Heart Care. Our heart specialists and their teams have been pioneering heart care research and developing innovative techniques to treat heart disease for more than 60 years.
As part of the minimally-invasive procedure, surgeons thread a catheter through blood vessels to implant a small valve in the patient’s aorta without stopping the heart or opening the chest. However, in Taylor’s case, radiation from her previous cancer treatments had caused Taylor’s aorta to narrow, even though the blood vessel showed no signs of the calcification that is common in aortic stenosis patients.
For those reasons, Taylor’s team was afraid the new valve wouldn’t “stick” in her aorta once they had it in place.
During the hour-long surgical procedure in 2012, Helmer, Wilson, Raveendran and the other team members stared intently at a digital monitor as surgeons released the new valve in Taylor’s heart.
“It was just dead quiet in the room. The doctors had their breath held, I was holding my breath, and I’m like, ‘Please stick, please stick, please stick,’” Katherine Vo, the former TAVR clinical program director, recalled.
To the relief of everyone in the room, the valve inflated—and stuck in the blood vessel.
“It was a phenomenal feeling,” Wilson said.
Taylor, who had her last rites read to her twice prior to the procedure, is now strong enough to babysit her granddaughter—and return to a family that was waiting for her. At the time, Taylor was the sixth patient to receive a TAVR implant through University of Minnesota Health. Now, our physicians have installed the device in 100 patients. Earlier this month, they performed the first TAVR procedure in Minnesota with conscious sedation.
“It was a spectacular feeling with the new valve in. It was like: ‘This is what I’ve been missing,’” Taylor said. “I have been given a wonderful, God-given chance to be able to do the things I want to do.”