The only two-hospital team in the country performing Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacements
KALAMAZOO, Mich. --- The cardiac teams at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo and Lakeland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph have joined forces to become the first in the region to offer a lifesaving procedure that gives new hope for many people with aortic stenosis.
The procedure, called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), is currently the only method other than open heart surgery approved for commercial use in the United States for people suffering from severe aortic stenosis. Severe aortic stenosis is a hardening or narrowing of one of the heart valves. Nearly 1.5 million Americans have the condition, but 30% of them are not healthy enough to survive open heart surgery, which requires going through the breastbone and temporarily stopping the heart. Half of patients who do not get treatment for severe aortic stenosis die within two years.
Since earning FDA approval for its Sapien valve in 2011, the manufacturer Edwards Lifesciences has been carefully selecting high-performing hospitals to offer the new device. Based on the quality of their cardiac programs and the ability to meet certain Medicare criteria, Edwards selected Bronson and Lakeland to pioneer the procedure in southwest Michigan. They are the first and only two-hospital team in the country performing TAVR. TAVR procedures are performed on the campus of Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo.
“This partnership enables us to serve a wider range of patients more effectively, drawing on each of our unique resources,” said Lakeland cardiothoracic surgeon, Kourosh Baghelai, MD. “The proven success of both our cardiovascular teams, our mutual commitment to quality and our safety records make our partnership a natural fit. It’s a great example of how collaboration and innovation can dramatically improve the level of medical care in our communities.”
Rudy Koshar of St. Joseph was fortunate to be one of the first TAVR patients in the region. Koshar had a quintuple bypass back in 1998, but his heart was beginning to fail once again. At 91, his age and the placement of his first bypass graft prevented him from being a candidate for another open heart surgery. His interventional cardiologist at Lakeland, Thomas K. Pow, MD, informed Rudy of another option. Koshar didn’t hesitate to sign up, and he hasn’t regretted his decision.
“Since this heart operation there’s been a change in my life,” he said. “I never thought I’d make it this far, but thanks to the Lord and thanks to this operation, I’m feeling better every day. There’s no pain to it. You’re in, you’re out and away you go.”
The TAVR team includes cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons from both Lakeland and Bronson. Members include interventional cardiologists, Christopher Rogers, DO and Thomas K. Pow, MD; cardiothoracic surgeons, Alphonse DeLucia III, MD and Kourosh Baghelai, MD; echocardiologist, John F. Schonder, MD; anesthesiologist, Gregory D. Schrock, MD and program coordinator, Carmela Pulling, BSN, RN, MA.
The team completed months of thorough and intensive specialized training to learn the TAVR procedure. During this procedure, the new valve made from bovine (cow heart) tissue is collapsed and guided through the femoral artery via a catheter inserted in the patient’s groin. Once the new valve is positioned inside of the patient’s own aortic valve, it is opened to restore blood flow to the body without the need for open surgery.
Another recent TAVR patient, 79-year-old Scotts resident, Ronald Myers, said he was a little hesitant when he heard how this new procedure works. “Going through the groin all the way up to the aortic valve is a long way to go,” he said. But his history of complicated open heart surgery 16 years ago left him no safe option for standard, open heart valve replacement.
“Last May I decided I was just gonna go ahead and die,” admitted Myers. “I spent most of my days lying down. I’d walk a little and be tired out. Now I can walk. I’m not short of breath and not wheezing. It was the best decision I ever made.”
“TAVR is a solution to a difficult problem,” said Dr. Rogers. ”We’re proud to be at the forefront in bringing one of the most advanced, minimally invasive heart treatment techniques to southwest Michigan.”
“This procedure brings new hope to high-risk patients and their families for improved longevity and quality of life,” added Dr. DeLucia.
When asked of upcoming holiday plans, Rudy Koshar joked, “we’ll have a big party and get a band in here!” Dorothy, his wife of 37 years, contends that this year will be quiet, and that “it will be better than last year.” If he’s feeling up to it, they’d like to take a drive out to visit their two horses - a drive that was too exhausting for Rudy just a couple of months ago.
Learn more about Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement.