Repairing hearts without surgery

August 20, 2010 3:21:31 PM PDT
Nearly two-million people are walking around right now suffering from congenital heart defects. More than 800-thousand are children. There may be a new option to strengthen hearts -- without open-heart surgery.

Dan Matthys is still kicking after living 38 years with a heart defect.

"I never played sports growing up. I was never allowed to," he said.

A weak pulmonary artery valve reduced blood flow from Dan's heart to his lungs -- zapping all his energy. By age 19, he had six open-heart surgeries. The last one nearly killed him. Then, two years ago, his valve had to be repaired.

"I was deathly afraid to go under another open-heart procedure," Dan said.

A new thimble-sized replacement could help Dan out. Doctors use a catheter to route the device through the patient's leg -- right into the heart. There, it strengthens the valve -- boosting blood flow.

"To re-open the chest many times is obviously uncomfortable for the patient, but it's also Dangerous in a way," Philipp Bonhoeffer, Chief of Cardiology at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children London, said.

On average, open heart surgery takes four to six hours -- with a six to eight week recovery. Dan's trans-catheter valve surgery took two hours, and he was back at work in less than a week. Still, there are risks including, artery blockage, valve infection and stroke.

Dan has plenty of energy now for kick-boxing, snowboarding, and family vacations.

"Now, I feel like a real human again. I can do activities. I can do things that I've always wanted to do," he said.

From the kid who couldn't play to the man who won't stop.

"Most people that know me know I'm stubborn, and I don't slow down," Dan said.

This replacement valve was approved for "limited use" by the FDA this year. Long-term studies are underway to find out how long the device will last before it requires additional repair work.


Adult Congenital Heart Association