The cardiovascular care team at St. Mark’s Hospital is now performing a life-saving procedure for patients with aortic valve stenosis who are not candidates for the traditional open heart surgery. Although it remains the gold standard for aortic valve replacement, the traditional approach is often too risky for older or sicker patients as it involves opening the chest and stopping the heart during the surgery.

During the minimally invasive transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure, the surgeon implants an artificial valve in the calcified, diseased aorta through a small incision in the patient’s leg or the chest between the ribs. Once in position, the new valve opens and closes more efficiently, significantly improving blood flow through the heart.

The heart specialists at the St. Mark’s Valve Clinic take a team approach to treating patients with aortic stenosis for whom open heart surgery is too risky. Cardiac surgeons, interventional cardiologists, specialists who examine blood flow and valve function, and primary care physicians conduct extensive multidisciplinary evaluations and then collaborate to more effectively treat patients who are diagnosed with heart valve disease.

This team approach actually starts with more effectively diagnosing aortic stenosis at St. Mark’s. At many hospitals nationwide, more than 50 percent of patients that undergo an echocardiogram, and show presence of the disease, are not evaluated for an aortic valve replacement. At St. Mark’s, the heart team analyzes every echocardiogram performed at the hospital to better identify patients who have severe calcification of the aortic heart valve.

Without a valve replacement, as many as 50 percent of patients with severe aortic stenosis do not survive more than two years beyond the onset of symptoms.

Approximately 500,000 people in this country suffer during the severe stages of this disease, which can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, vertigo, unexplained loss of consciousness and stroke-like symptoms among others. They are also at risk for sudden death due to heart failure.

Following the TAVR procedure, patients feel minimal-to-no pain and most experience a much more rapid recovery than they would from a traditional, open-heart valve replacement. They can breathe better, and are soon able to exercise and resume a healthier lifestyle. Most important, their risk for heart failure and imminent death are significantly reduced.

The advanced TAVR procedure is performed in only a very small number of hospitals in the United States. St. Mark’s Hospital is one of only three locations in Utah offering this option for patients who would otherwise too quickly lose their lives to this disease.