(08/21/12) - A new technique may save some patients who are too frail for open heart surgery. The non-surgical procedure could help a lot of people suffering with potentially deadly heart conditions, especially seniors.
Richard Pierce is a Chameleon. The retired brigadier general now spends his time collecting uniforms from around the world and reenacts major events and speeches.
"America has never lost, nor will lose a war." Richard loves General Patton's famous speech. It has set the stage for his own fight to save his heart.
"I've had everything done to me that can be done except a pacemaker and a new ticker," Richard says, of his latest battle: aortic stenosis. It's a narrowing of the aortic valve.
"The prognosis of aortic stenosis is worse than some cancers," says Dr. Raj Makkar, an interventional cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Traditionally, he says, the only fix would be open heart surgery. But thousands of patients, like Richard, would be too old, too frail or too sick to survive it. "The majority of people would be dead in five years or less."
Makkar and his colleagues at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute are using a non-surgical technique, involving placing a valve inside a catheter that's snaked up the patient's body through the groin. Once inside, a balloon pops the valve open.
Recovery time is cut from weeks to just days. Results published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows death after two years for transcatherter aortic valve replacement was 43 percent. With standard open heart surgery, it is 68 percent.
Right now, the non-surgical technique is being used only for patients who are not good candidates for the traditional open heart surgery. But, clinical trials began this year for people who are less frail.
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