Presbyterian doctors call new procedure a 'game changer'

Updated: 04/18/2014 9:37 AM | Created: 04/18/2014 9:35 AM
By: Kim Tobin, KOB Eyewitness News 4

An Albuquerque man who lived with a heart condition for years is on the road to recovery after undergoing a new procedure at Presbyterian hospital. Doctors are calling it a major medical breakthrough for New Mexico.

At 85-years-old, Jesse Lopez feared he would have to say goodbye to his loved ones.

"For the last five or six years, I was dying slowly," Lopez said.

Lopez suffered from Aortic Stenosis. It's a condition where the valve to his heart had shrunk, restricting blood flow. Daily activities were almost impossible and breathing was even a difficult task.

"So we knew that time was coming short," said his daughter, Joella Apodaca. "And if he didn't do this surgery, he wasn't going to live much longer."

Because of his frail state, Lopez was not a candidate for open heart surgery. But time was on his side.

"I can't explain how happy we were, to know that we could do it here in New Mexico," Apodaca said.

Presbyterian hospital just started a new program in December: Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, also known as TAVR.

Instead of a risky open heart surgery, this new technology lets doctors put a collapsed valve into the body with a catheter through an incision in the leg or neck. Once the valve is in place, they expand it with a balloon and it starts working immediately.

"It changes the game for New Mexico," Dr. Peter Walinksy said. "Because, up until December, anyone who wasn't a candidate for open aortic valve replacement had to go out of state."

The team's research showed there was a big need in New Mexico, and millions of dollars were spent on the new operating room.

"This is a fixed imaging system, and the quality is just night and day," Walinsky said.

For patients like Lopez, the procedure gave him back his independence and the chance for many more years with his family.

"God had opened the doors for me," Lopez said. "My whole life had changed, completely."

Around 1.5 million Americans suffer from Aortic Stenosis. Presbyterian doctors say they expect to do about 40 to 50 of these procedures per year.

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