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Breakthrough procedure offers new hope for heart valve replacement patients

Minimally invasive approach could help thousands too frail for traditional surgery

DETROIT, Mich. – Elaine Hernwick of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., has suffered from heart failure for over a decade.

"I couldn't breathe period.  I could not get up and do any chores at all," said Hernwick.

Hernwick was suffering from aortic stenosis, a common heart problem caused by an abnormal narrowing of the heart's aortic valve.  With her condition getting worse, doctors gave her a grave prognosis.

"That I would die," said Hernwick.

Aortic stenosis usually requires hours of open heart surgery to correct.  Hernwick's risk from the surgery itself was too high, so doctors at St. John Hospital in Detroit offered her a breakthrough alternative available through a clinical trial.  It's called the Medtronic CoreValve System.

"Many patients are very high risk for surgery or cannot have surgery for multiple different reasons, and this is a procedure that potentially could offer them relief of their symptoms of heart failure and also be less of a risk," said Dr. Tom Davis, a cardiologist at St. John Hospital.

Instead of opening a person's chest to replace the valve, a catheter is guided to the old valve through an artery in the groin.  Once in place, the new artificial valve on a wire frame is deployed inside the diseased valve, effectively replacing it without major surgery.

"Some of the patients are up and walking the following day, and some of them can actually go home, very quickly, in two or three days," said Davis.

Hernwick had her valve fixed yesterday and is already feeling great.

"It was a wonderful option," said Hernwick.

If approved, the procedure could help thousands of patients.  About 100,000 Americans are diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis each year, but one-third of them are considered too high-risk for traditional surgery because of their age or frail health.

The clinical trial will involve more than 1,300 patients at up to 40 hospitals in the United States.

For more information about the clinical trial at St. John Hospital, patients can call 855-988-2583.

To learn more about the procedure and the research, click here