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Joyce Jeneczek with daughter

Remarkable heart surgeries yield remarkable results

Minimally invasive surgical techniques are changing heart surgery and the lives of people living with heart disease.

Joyce Jereczek, 84, of Arcadia, Wis., says, "I can do everything now" after she had two remarkable heart procedures in 2018. Remarkable because both procedures were performed without cutting open her chest.

Remarkable because they were done on a beating heart without bypass. Remarkable because just a few years ago, Joyce's heart conditions likely would have been inoperable.

"I was always so short of breath," Joyce recalls of her health before surgery. Tests at Gundersen's Heart Institute in La Crosse revealed that the aortic valve and mitral valve in Joyce's heart were not working well.

On Valentine's Day 2018, a Gundersen heart team performed transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) on Joyce. With TAVR, a catheter carrying a collapsed replacement valve is threaded up to the heart through an artery in the groin. Once at the site of the faulty valve, the new aortic valve is expanded into place.

"I was nervous about the procedure, but my daughter, Rocky, was my rock and was with me all the way. She convinced me to do the procedure, and it was the right decision," Joyce says.

Mitral regurgitation

Months later, the Gundersen heart team used another minimally invasive procedure—the new transcatheter mitral valve repair or TMVR—to fix a condition called mitral regurgitation caused by a leaky heart valve. Another remarkable procedure considering the mitral valve is a saddle-shaped target about the size of a quarter which moves and changes shape as the heart beats.

Michael Witcik, MD

Michael Witcik, MD

"The mitral valve has two leaflets that regulate blood flow through the two left chambers of the heart," explains cardiologist Michael Witcik, MD. "With each heartbeat, the leaflets open for blood to flow through and then close. Sometimes the leaflets bulge or weaken so they don't close properly, allowing blood to leak backward or regurgitate."

Left untreated, mitral regurgitation forces the heart to work harder to pump blood, which can lead to serious heart problems, including heart failure.

"We can treat mitral regurgitation with medications, but if not effective, we may have to consider surgery," Dr. Witcik explains. "Traditionally, that required open-heart surgery. But when a patient is not a good candidate for open-heart surgery, as was the case with Joyce, we can now offer TMVR."

As with her earlier TAVR procedure, Gundersen heart specialists accessed Joyce's mitral valve using a catheter inserted through a tiny incision. The catheter carried a device called a MitraClip®. One or more are implanted to tighten the mitral valve so it can close more completely and reduce regurgitation.

Is TMVR right for you?

While TMVR is less invasive than traditional open-heart surgery, it's not right for everyone. But for eligible patients, TMVR offers many benefits. In clinical studies patients experienced:

  • An immediate reduction in mitral regurgitation
  • More than 70 percent reduction in hospital visits for heart failure
  • Improved quality of life soon after the procedure

"If you have mitral valve regurgitation and have been told that nothing can be done, you should come to Gundersen for an assessment. TMVR may help. It's minimally invasive, it's low risk and it can help improve symptoms. Our goal is to make the patient feel better and improve quality of life," Dr. Witcik reports.

Joyce is proof of that. "Now I can do what I want—my housework, grocery shopping or spending time with my family—and I feel good."

Remarkable indeed.

To be considered for TMVR, talk with your doctor about a referral to the Gundersen Valve Clinic or call (608) 775-2335.

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