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Dianne Heroux with her care team

The heart to dance

"I have a new lease on life and feel like dancing," says Dianne Heroux of Dakota, Minn. She shows off her special light-up, high-top shoes to prove it.

What has Dianne ready to kick up her heels?

A minimally invasive heart valve replacement procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR that doesn't require cutting open the chest. With restrictions recently lifted, the procedure is now available to more patients, like Dianne.

When Gundersen began offering TAVR in 2014 it was only FDA-approved for people who were at too high a risk for open-heart surgery.

"Two recent clinical trials showed TAVR offers better outcomes over traditional open-heart surgery for low-risk patients, too," reports cardiologist Raju Ailiani, MD. "In August 2019, TAVR was approved for low-risk patients, as well. Prior to this, patients considered low risk usually had to have surgical aortic valve replacement."

TAVR is now a preferred treatment option for most patients. Dianne was the first low-risk patient to receive TAVR at Gundersen.

"The doctors explained everything to me. They were very thorough and gave me the confidence to go through with the procedure," Dianne says. "I was extremely happy to learn it could be done using a minimally invasive procedure. It's mind-boggling that they can do this."

Dianne's heart valve problem was discovered when her primary care doctor Carrie Gerhard, MD, ordered an echocardiogram to test for heart disease. Dianne admits she wasn't aware of a problem, but she would get winded while walking, shopping or climbing stairs. The 76-year-old chalked it up to getting older. Instead, the test showed Dianne had a narrowing of the valve in the heart's main artery.

"The cardiology department at Gundersen is absolutely amazing. They met with me to explain the problem and review my treatment options in language I could understand," Dianne recalls.

At Gundersen, TAVR is coordinated and performed by a specially trained team of heart specialists. The team includes an interventional cardiologist, heart surgeon, heart imaging expert, Cardiac Catheterization Lab staff and RN valve coordinator.

"We discuss each case as a team before we recommend the best, safest and most effective treatment option. TAVR may not be for everyone," Dr. Ailiani cautions. "But for eligible patients, TAVR offers many benefits over traditional surgery."

Dianne's team determined that she was a good candidate for TAVR. Because it is minimally invasive there is:

  • Less pain, less blood loss and lower risk for complications
  • Shorter hospital stays—just one night for Dianne
  • Faster recovery and improved quality of life soon after the procedure

"We use imaging to guide a catheter carrying a collapsed replacement valve. The catheter is threaded up to the heart through a direct puncture or a very small incision in the groin. At the site of the faulty valve, the new valve is expanded into place. Then we use imaging to ensure that the valve is working well while we're still in the operating room," explains Dr. Ailiani.

Like many TAVR patients, Dianne went home the next day. "The staff was wonderful. They were all part of a great team that made me feel reassured that I would be well cared for," Dianne says. "I now have more energy…it's like a window shade being pulled up. I feel wonderful."

Now that's something to dance about!

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