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An Alternative to Open-Heart Surgery for Valve Replacement

June 15, 2017

Robert Regent, 84, of Cedar Crest Village in Pompton Plains, has battled heart disease for the past 16 years, but it has not stopped him from living life to the fullest. In fact, he survived open-heart surgery and several angioplasties before cruising to Hawaii in January of 2015, when shortness of breath and other concerning symptoms landed him in a Honolulu hospital.

“I was supposed to meet my friends for dinner, but couldn’t walk too far and didn’t feel right. So I went to the medical facility … and they carted me off the ship,” he recalls. Instead of enjoying the rest of his vacation, Regent received another stent followed by a confirmed diagnosis of prosthetic valve stenosis, a narrowing or obstruction that develops in a replaced heart valve.

Days later, Regent was back home and under the care of Chilton Medical Center cardiologists Mark Rosenthal, MD, and Lawrence Blitz, MD, medical director of the hospital’s Cardiovascular Interventional Lab. The physicians monitored his condition and ultimately recommended transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), a breakthrough technique offering new hope to patients who might otherwise forgo treatment. 

Understanding Valve Disease 

Aortic stenosis is the most common form of acquired valvular heart disease. Historically, cardiac specialists have treated it with surgical aortic valve replacement (SAVR), during which they surgically remove a damaged valve and replace it with a mechanical or tissue valve.

“A tissue replacement doesn’t last forever,” says Dr. Blitz. “The valve lasts about 10 to 15 years before it degenerates and either becomes stenotic or narrowed or insufficient or leaky.” That was precisely the case for Regent, who underwent a surgical aortic valve replacement in 2001. Prosthetic valve stenosis is physiologically the same as the more common heart valve disease called aortic stenosis, which is also degenerative and treatable with SAVR or the TAVR procedure.

Both conditions result from an accumulation of calcium or scarring in the heart’s aortic valve. TAVR has revolutionized the way physicians treat severe aortic disease – providing a minimally invasive alternative that can replace a faulty valve without surgical intervention. 

A New Approach to Valve Replacement 

Chilton Medical Center physicians can now offer heart patients access to TAVR in collaboration with cardiac surgeons at Morristown Medical Center, the first hospital in New Jersey to introduce this innovation for severe aortic stenosis. Since both hospitals are part of Atlantic Health System, patients like Regent have ready access to one of the country’s top 50 cardiology and heart surgery programs, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, and a hospital that treats more patients with heart valve disease than any other health care provider in the state.

Unlike conventional surgery, TAVR is performed in less than an hour. Patients are usually out of bed the next day and back to their normal routines within a couple of weeks.

For patients like Robert Regent, who’ve undergone both types of valve replacement, the experiences are like night and day. Today, Regent is balancing a full social calendar – playing horseshoes, bocce ball and Ping-Pong. Most of all, he looks forward to getting back on the golf course this spring.

Learn more about TAVR >