Last year, when Lucy M. began experiencing problems with her breathing, she chalked it up to complications stemming from her asthma. She followed up with her pulmonologist who adjusted her medications. When the breathing problems persisted, she consulted with her primary care physician who referred her to a cardiologist. A heart catheterization revealed a narrowed heart valve, a condition called aortic stenosis.
In June of 2015, Lucy, 84, underwent a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center. The procedure is one in which the technology allows physicians to replace a severely narrowed aortic valve due to aortic stenosis without a conventional chest incision or having to be placed on a bypass pump. In this much less invasive approach, a new valve is implanted either through a catheter that is inserted through the vein in the groin area and then carefully passed up into the heart, or through a tiny incision in the chest wall and implanted directly into a patient’s heart.
“I feel good, really good,” Lucy, of Haverhill, Massachusetts said. “I’m surprised I feel as well as I do.” Without the TAVR, she faced an uncertain future and is pleased she underwent the procedure.
“I’m 84 years old. I felt either it’s going to do good for me or it’s not going to do good for me, so I thought I would take the chance,” she said. “I want to prolong my life. I still feel young.”
She encourages others who need this procedure to give it a try. While she misses working, she doesn’t miss her commute. Faced with several other health issues, Lucy is content to spend time with her adult son and daughter and do “ordinary things,” including grocery shopping, laundry and cooking.
“If anyone has the opportunity, regardless of what age they are, they should take the chance. Always take a chance,” she said.
For the past 50 years, engineer Manuel G. has routinely worked seven days a week and played racquetball and competitive soccer. About 18 months ago he began needing naps to get through the day, doubling over to catch his breath while playing sports and experiencing heart palpitations.
“I felt like an old man. I didn’t have any energy,” Manuel, 71, of North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, said.
In May of 2014, he was diagnosed with persistent atrial fibrillation, a condition where a patient has a sustained heart rhythm disorder for more than seven days. A procedure called a cardioversion got his heart beating normally again, but only for a few days. A second one lasted about a week. His cardiologist then reached out to Dr. Michael Orlov, director of the Electrophysiology Laboratory at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center. He underwent a third procedure called an ablation where Dr. Orlov used radiofrequency to produce scar tissue on Manuel’s heart to block abnormal electrical signals that cause his rhythm disorder. In less than two weeks he was back in atrial fibrillation and by the end of the year he had undergone a second cardioversion and another ablation, however, in his case, they did not correct his condition.
“I really, really, didn’t want a pacemaker,” he said. “That was out of the question for me.”
On the advice of Dr. Orlov, Manuel met Dr. Stanley Tam, a cardiac surgeon who had recently joined St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center from the University of Massachusetts Memorial in Worcester where he had served as chief of cardiac surgery. After consulting with Dr. Tam and Dr. Orlov, Manuel decided to undergo an ablation procedure called the “Convergent Approach” where the cardiac surgeon and electrophysiologist work as a team to perform a cardiac ablation. Using a minimally invasive approach with a small incision in Manuel’s abdomen, Dr. Tam performed an ablation across the backside of his heart. Dr. Orlov, the next day, threaded an ablation catheter through Manuel’s femoral vein in the groin to reach the inside of his heart to ensure the lesions were completed and connected, and then used electrophysiology diagnostics to confirm the abnormal electrical signals were interrupted.
“I’ve been in normal sinus rhythm since,” Manuel said. “I’m feeling the best I have felt in two years.”
Manuel, who has been married for 50 years and is a father and grandfather, is doing just that. In the summer heat and humidity, he was building a patio at his house and is once again playing racquetball.
“I’m really thankful to my doctors for giving me back my life,” he said.