By Cynthia Beth Gamble, ARNP-C, AACC

Husband and Wife Receive His-and-Hers  New Heart Valves in Life-Prolonging Surgery
Paul and Nancy Bradtmiller are living the good life in Venice after their TAVR procedures last year.
Courtesy Venice Regional Bayfront Health

Married 61 years, Paul and Nancy Bradtmiller have spent more of their lives together than apart. Now in their 80s with three children and four grandchildren, the couple was living the good life in Venice. Except for their dangerously narrowed heart valves.

So they pursued better health like they do everything else – together – having the same surgical procedure just months apart. They even had the same type and size of device implanted to replace their faulty valves.

“The Bradtmillers are the first husband-and-wife pair to receive this potentially life-saving procedure at Venice Regional Bayfront Health,” said John Galat, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon who leads Venice Regional’s open-heart program. “They were able to undergo surgery just three months apart because of the quick recovery possible with this minimally invasive procedure. They were able to support one another at home after one night in the hospital, unlike with open heart surgery that requires much longer hospitalization and recovery periods.”

Paul and Nancy both suffered from severe aortic stenosis where the aortic heart valve becomes dangerously narrowed, impeding blood flow. It’s a common condition that generally affects seniors and that can lead to sudden death.

More than one in eight people aged 75 and older have moderate or severe aortic stenosis, according to scientific studies. In the past, people suffering from the condition had limited options, such as open-heart surgery, to replace an unhealthy valve.

Today, patients can opt for a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), which involves a puncture typically in the groin area. The interventionalist and surgeon insert a catheter into an artery and guide it to the heart to place the new valve, which is made from tissue from a cow. It’s the same material used for valves in open heart surgery, but the TAVR valve is designed to expand inside the existing valve.

In 2019, TAVR was approved for all patients with severe aortic stenosis, not just those who are not good candidates for open heart surgery.

Benefits of TAVR include shorter procedure and hospital stay times, relief of symptoms almost immediately, improved heart function, faster recovery, and less medication. Patients quickly experience improved energy and easier breathing. Patients who undergo this procedure also experience a significant decrease in all-cause mortality compared to traditional valve surgery.

A couple’s journey to better health

Jim Landis, M.D., an interventional cardiologist with Venice Regional, began following Paul and Nancy several years ago, monitoring the gradual narrowing of their aortic valves. In 2018, he determined it was time for the couple to seek surgical intervention. Dr. Landis referred them to Venice Regional’s TAVR team for evaluation.

“Aortic stenosis is a mechanical problem; it can’t be solved with medication,” Dr. Landis explained. “Before TAVR, the only option was open heart surgery to replace the valve. Especially with patients of more advanced years, there is greater risk and a much longer recovery period. With TAVR, the Bradtmillers were able to support one another through recovery.”

Edmund Bermudez, M.D., an interventional cardiologist with Gulf Coast Medical Group’s Regional Cardiac and Vascular Associates, oversees the TAVR program at Venice Regional. He participated in both Paul’s and Nancy’s TAVR procedures and said they were straightforward with no complications.

“The doctors and nurses at Venice Regional were amazing,” Paul said, as Nancy nodded in agreement. “I really trust Dr. Landis’ recommendation. Dr. Bermudez is not only highly trained and experienced in the procedure, but he also has a sense of humor, which puts you at ease. I knew I was in the hands of a specially educated, trained and experienced team. My surgery took just under two hours and I went home the next day with no pain and only minimal discomfort where the catheter entered my groin.”

Nancy said her experience was similarly uneventful.

“The exciting thing for patients is that most feel an immediate benefit when the aortic stenosis is relieved,” Dr. Galat said. “Instead of pushing blood through a small opening, the heart can push  blood flow through a larger opening. The ultimate benefit for the Bradtmillers is that their risk for sudden death definitely decreased.”

“I feel so much better with the new valve,” said Paul, a retired civil engineering executive and former U.S. Navy commander. “I’ve always been really active, but I was slowing down. I have a lot more energy now. They’re putting me through the paces at cardiac rehab (at Venice Regional), and Nancy will be starting soon.”

For more information about aortic stenosis and the TAVR procedure, please call 941-486-6790.

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