Heart Valve Switch
Updated: 06/03/2004 05:25 AM
As many as one in 100 people are born with an abnormal aortic valve. Most need replacement surgery, using an animal or mechanical part. But a special procedure offers an alternative for younger patients by using the heart’s own pulmonary valve.
Bryan Nella is a 29-year-old always on the run, but not long ago, he was running on empty. “I used to go on a treadmill after work once in a while and I would walk for 20 minutes and I’d be out of breath, sometimes dizzy and not even jogging. I just figured I was out of shape,” Bryan said.
It was much more serious than he thought. Bryan had heart valve disease and needed surgery. He was facing valve replacement, using his own pulmonary valve.
“It’s designed to replace the aortic valve, especially in very young patients,” said Paul Stelzer, M.D.
Here’s how it works: an incision is made above the coronary artery. Next, the diseased aortic valve is removed and replaced by the patient’s own pulmonary valve. That pulmonary valve is then replaced with a donor valve.
According to Dr. Stelzer, “All the layers of the valve are there. Everything is still alive. It’s not going to be rejected because it’s you.”
In traditional valve replacement, a mechanical valve would have meant Bryan faced a lifetime of blood thinning drugs.
“Those blood thinners are not perfect. They don’t prevent all clots from forming,” explained Dr. Stelzer.
Animal valves can also be used, but that means multiple operations.
Dr. Stelzer said, “If you’re in your 20's, you’re still going to need at least two of those, maybe three.”
Bryan’s healthy and now running in the right direction, when it comes to heart health.
“You can say my heart’s actually working the way it’s supposed to, which is probably something I haven’t had for most of my life,” said Bryan.
The operation is very intricate and only a few doctors around the world perform the surgery.
Back to list