Medical Marvels: New non-surgical option for replacing heart valves

Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Medical Marvels: Replacing heart valves without surgery
In this edition of Medical Marvels, a look at how heart patient Glen Zammit was helped by a new, non-surgical procedure for replacing heart valves.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Eyewitness News is taking you inside Manhattan's New York-Presbyterian Hospital for a look at some extraordinary stories that we call Medical Marvels. It's WABC's Emmy-nominated digital series exclusive to 7online.

At the age of 38, Glen Zammit has already endured more than his share of heart problems.

In the span of one year, doctors performed five major procedures on him, including two open heart surgeries.

"You wake up one day, a snap of a finger, and life as you know it is over," said Glen. "You just kind of realize you have to fight."

In 2013, Glen faced the fight of his life when one of his aortic valves began to fail again.

"I was here in my own back yard, I was playing with the boys, running back and forth. I mean 40, 50 feet maybe and I was gasping for air. I realized something was wrong," he said.

Glen was given a 50% chance of surviving a third open heart surgery.

That's when Dr. Susheel Kodali offered him another option: a new, non-surgical procedure called a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, or TAVR.

"It wasn't yet approved at that time for patients like him," said Dr. Kodali. "But we were part of a trial using this to treat failures of prior surgical valves."

During the procedure, an artificial valve is compressed into a catheter and fed through an artery in the leg up to the heart.

"This is the one that Glen got, and basically it's a metal frame. And it's got tissue inside," said Dr. Kudali. "We advance it up around and into his heart and across that valve that's not working well, using Xray, get it into position and we inflate the balloon. And what it does is, it expands the valve, then we deflate the balloon. The new valve has pushed the old valve out of the way and the new valve is functioning, taking over the function of the valve that wasn't working."

Glen is able to leave the hospital in two days and return to a normal quality of life almost immediately.

"When I woke up from the TAVR I didn't think they did anything," said Glen. "I was shocked, I was absolutely shocked. I had the procedure done on a Wednesday, I was out on a Friday. It's life changing, I can tell you that."

"I'm extremely grateful he was able to have this procedure," said Glen's wife Christine. "To see Glen run around in the backyard with our kids and for him to be able to coach our kids in baseball and soccer and play basketball with them, it's unbelievable. This is what he's always wanted."

Glen's TAVR valve will likely only last eight to ten years. But doctors say the procedure can be redone when needed.

"I can't get myself distracted by the unknown and what the potential is down the road," said Glen. "I just want to kind of run with this opportunity and just live my life."