SALT LAKE CITY — Open heart surgery may be a thing of the past for select patients, as new technology is paving the way for less-invasive options.
Together with a cardiac team led by Dr. Brian Whisenant and Dr. Kent Jones, Intermountain Medical Center interventional cardiologist Dr. Edward Miner has been employing trans-catheter aortic valve replacement methods for the past three years, extending the lives of more than 130 aortic stenosis patients who were turned down for conventional surgery due to their age, frailty or other circumstances.
Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline will focus on heart disease and other heart-related issues. From 10 a.m. until noon, Miner and Dr. Brian Crandall, a cardiac electrophysiologist with Intermountain's Heart Institute, will answer questions by phone. To participate, call 1-800-925-8177 during that time or post a question online on the Deseret News' Facebook page, www.facebook.com/desnews.
The approximately one-hour surgery, in which a heart valve is replaced through a 1-centimeter catheter in the leg, results in "a lot less suffering than open heart surgery," but is only FDA-approved for patients who can't make it through surgery, said Miner.
"Aortic stenosis is the most common valve issue people face," he said. While a specific cause is not known, Miner said a healthy heart would seem less likely to contract the condition.
He said the condition could be staved off through healthy diet, regular exercise and maintaining control of cholesterol levels and blood pressure, even through the use of medications.
Aortic stenosis, in which the aortic valve doesn't open fully, decreasing blood flow from the heart, often afflicts individuals in their 70s or 80s, Miner said. But it can appear in some people with congenital heart defects as early as age 30. Symptoms include chest pressure or a heart murmur, shortness of breath and light-headedness.
"It used to be that once you were diagnosed with symptoms, your life expectancy was less than a year," Miner said. With successful surgery, life returns to normal. "It's a totally correctable problem, but if nothing is done, it can quickly lead to death."
Open heart surgery remains a preferred method for most patients, he said, adding that it is unknown whether the newer, minimally invasive techniques will ever replace traditional methods that have been used for decades.
Patients at the Intermountain Medical Center's Heart Institute who are not considered inoperable can opt for the trans-catheter aortic valve replacement procedure only as part of a clinical study, where doctors are investigating the outcomes for patients other than the elderly. They hope to make the procedure more widely available.
"Trans-catheter aortic valve replacement surgery is better than no surgery of any kind," Miner said. It offers patients a chance utilizing a surgery that he said is less painful, has a much shorter recovery period and equal long-term outcomes.
"It's a neat technology and it is saving lives," Miner said. The Murray facility is the only location in Utah that offers the procedure, which was billed recently as "futuristic" on an Intermountain billboard advertisement.
Even with such advances being made in an already specialized field, Miner said it is important for everyone to eat right, keep control of their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, exercise regularly and not smoke.
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Saturday: A look at arrhythmias
The Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline focuses on surviving heart disease and other heart-related issues. From 10 a.m. to noon, Dr. Brian Crandall and Dr. Edward Miner, both of Intermountain's Heart Institute, will answer questions. Call 1-800 925-8177, toll-free, or post questions online at www.facebook.com/desnews.