Barely 24 hours after receiving a heart valve replacement, Jim Ackerman went home from Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Froedtert Hospital. Two days later, the Muskego resident, 62, resumed his job as a tree salesman.
The fast recovery comes courtesy of a minimally invasive way to replace heart valves called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) and an experienced team that has skillfully honed its expertise in the procedure. According to Paul Pearson, MD, PhD, cardiothoracic surgeon and MCW faculty member, TAVR can help patients avoid open heart surgery and the ensuing lengthy recovery.
TAVR is tailor-made for patients like Jim, who was diagnosed with aortic stenosis, in which the aortic valve does not fully open. The resulting reduced blood flow caused fatigue and a heart murmur. Jim had received radiation therapy for cancer several years ago, and the resulting scar tissue made open heart surgery risky.
Dr. Pearson performed Jim’s TAVR procedure with Peter Mason, MD, MPH, interventional cardiologist and MCW faculty member. The procedure involves threading a small plastic tube up the femoral artery to the heart, starting at the groin. The tube carries a metal stent, and the valve, fashioned from cow heart tissue, is nestled inside the stent.
“Because the valve isn’t living tissue, the body won’t reject it,” Dr. Pearson said. “After aligning the tube inside the valve opening, surgeons inflate a tiny balloon that pushes open the stent, which then deploys the valve.”
The Sentinel® Cerebral Protection System, used first in Wisconsin at Froedtert Hospital, reduces the already low risk of stroke during the procedure. The system’s key component is a microscopic filter placed where a group of brain arteries branch off the aorta. It prevents any debris dislodged by the procedure from entering those arteries.
“Our approach to TAVR is unique because most of the time, we do not administer general anesthesia,” Dr. Pearson said. “This approach allows most patients to leave the hospital within 24 hours.”
TAVR patients at Froedtert Hospital benefit from an experienced team of physicians who helped conduct research used to obtain federal approval of the procedure. “We’re a high-volume TAVR center, which leads to better outcomes,” Dr. Pearson said.
Jim highly recommends Froedtert Hospital. “The doctors, the nurses — everyone’s awesome,” he said. And he also heartily endorses TAVR.
“I feel 10 times better,” Jim said. “My job requires a lot of walking and I used to get tired by the afternoon. Now I feel great all day. For me it was definitely the way to go.”