By Rachel Champeau
At 94 years old, Santa Monica resident Vivian Valentine has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. A new life-saving heart valve procedure done without traditional open heart surgery has given her a new lease on life.
Vivian says she now really wants to live to be 100 and continue to sing in her church choir. And her doctors say she may do just that given the procedure’s success.
Like many older patients, Vivian was too frail to have conventional surgery to replace her main heart valve that was so clogged with calcium deposits it couldn’t open adequately to allow enough blood to pump through her body.
As a result, she was tired, couldn’t perform everyday tasks and suffered from heart palpitations and swelling in her legs.
Luckily, UCLA performed a new, less-invasive procedure that was given FDA approval last year. Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) helps prolong patients’ lives for those not able to undergo traditional surgery. The new valve travels to the heart on a catheter via an artery in the groin. Once it reaches the heart, the valve is opened and immediately starts working.
Procedures like TAVR offer new options for patients who are inoperable or excessively high risk candidates for conventional open aortic valve replacement surgery. Previously these patients – often in their 80s and even 90s – had no choice but to live with a diminished quality of life or shortened life because they weren’t good surgical candidates due to advanced age or illness.
“This new procedure can give older patients a new lease on life and a chance to live better longer,” said Dr. Jonathan Tobis, a clinical professor of cardiology and Director of Interventional Cardiology for the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the UCLA Health System.
Tobis notes that older patients with this condition, called aortic stenosis, who couldn’t undergo traditional heart surgery, previously had only a 50 percent chance of living two years after symptoms were diagnosed.
The procedure does not require a chest incision and rarely utilizes a heart-bypass machine, so fewer surgical risks are involved. Vivian is UCLA’s oldest TAVR patient to date.
“These new minimally-invasive surgical techniques can really help extend and improve the quality of life for older patients who previously had few options,” said Dr. Richard J. Shemin, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the Geffen School of Medicine and the UCLA Health System. “It is our goal to provide the best valve replacement device and the least invasive technology, which allows our patients to resume a more normal life.”
As for Vivian, she left the hospital just three days after her TAVR procedure that was performed on Nov. 14 at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Her doctors say that her prognosis is good and that she can soon resume her regular activities.
Her son, Lynn Lawrence, who owns a beauty salon in Altadena, said he was concerned at the prospect of his mother having a procedure at her advanced age.
“However, I was just amazed at how well she’s doing even the first day after the procedure,” he said.
Vivian says that walking and breathing is now much easier. She says that her heart used to pound loudly and it sounded like Louis Armstrong was playing his trumpet in her chest. Since the procedure, she says her heart is much quieter.
Dr. Shemin says that is due to her heart murmur stabilizing with better blood flow through the valve.
Vivian is eager to get back to singing soprano in two choirs: the Santa Monica Emeritus College Gospel Choir and the Redeemer Baptist Church choir. She’s been singing in groups since 1957 and says it really keeps her going. She even sang a medley of her favorite songs, Love Lifted Me, Amazing Grace and God Has Smiled on Me, to her doctors from her hospital bed.
A Santa Monica resident since 1944, the family matriarch is looking forward to enjoying the upcoming holidays with her seven grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and three great great grandchildren.
TAVR is the latest in a trend of major surgical procedures now being performed without invasive surgery at UCLA. With this unique technology, cardiologists and heart surgeons work closely together in performing the procedure. Vivian’s team included heart surgeons Dr. Shemin and Dr. Murray Kwon and cardiologists Dr. Tobis, Dr. William Suh and Dr. Gabe Vorobiof. Vivian’s long-term cardiologist is Dr. Lawrence Lazar.
The cardiac team also relies on key anesthesiologists, nurses and technologists who also help address the needs of each individual patient.
For more information about the TAVR procedure at UCLA, visit www.uclahealth.org/TAVR or contact 310.206.8232.