Heart repair without surgery

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
September 26, 2008 3:51:43 PM PDT
Three million people in the United States have aortic stenosis, a heart condition that can be deadly. Now, doctors are testing a new procedure that repairs the heart without surgery. It may provide hope for patients who have run out of options.Not long ago, Gladys Westbrook worried her 80th birthday might be her last.

"I was having a hard time breathing and when I would talk on the telephone, I would have to gasp for breath to finish a sentence," she said.

Westbrook suffered heart failure from aortic stenosis, which is a narrowing of the main valve that is part of the heart's pumping chamber. Four years ago, doctors told her open heart surgery wasn't an option. She was running out of time.

"He said you would have between two and four years, no more than four," Westbrook said. "Well, this was my fourth year."

She learned, however, that she was a candidate for a clinical trial at Emory University, testing a non-surgical technique. A catheter pushes a new valve mounted on a metal frame through the artery. Inside the valve is a balloon.

"Then everyone sort of holds their breath and you inflate the balloon," said Dr. Peter Block, a cardiologist at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. "The valve opens up. The supporting structure opens up, which is metal, and then we deflate the balloon and take the balloon out and the valve is left in place and begins to work immediately."

Dr. Block says the procedure is still experimental, but he has high hopes.

"My gut tells me that people like Gladys are much better," he said. "My gut tells me this is going to work."

Just 30 days after the surgery, Westbrook is taking steps toward a healthier future.

"I have had a miracle happen in my life because of what they have been able to do," she said.

Emory University Hospital is one of 10 hospitals nationwide conducting the trial of the new heart valve procedure, which was developed by a physician in France.


The Andreas Gruentzig Cardiovascular Center of Emory University

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