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A New Lifesaving Procedure

September 21, 2012, 6:10 PM by Casey Wonnenberg

A New Lifesaving Procedure

Elderly patients with certain heart problems are often told they only have a year to live and there's not a whole lot doctors can do for them. But a new procedure being done in South Dakota is changing that.

Betty Christensen enjoys spending time with family. Today one of her daughters and granddaughter took her to her doctor's appointment.

"I have a big slew of grandkids and great grandkids, close to 90," Christensen said.

That's one of the reasons the 79-year-old decided to try out the new transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR. She's the first patient to have the procedure done in South Dakota.

"I had a very hard time breathing and then the doctors would have to give me open heart surgery, which I would not have survived," Christensen said.

Christensen suffered from aortic stenosis, where a heart valve does not open properly.

Before this procedure, patients like Christensen who aren't candidates for open heart surgery often did not have much time to live.

"Statistically speaking, unfortunately the survival is about 50 percent," Sanford Cardiology Medical Director Dr. Tom Stys said.

But Stys says now Christensen's outlook is much better. During the procedure, doctors placed a heart valve in her body using a catheter, which was inserted through her leg and threaded up to her heart.

"We literally have ten to 15 seconds to deploy the valve," Stys said.

While the procedure is not necessarily easy, patients like Christensen know it's lifesaving.

Less than two weeks after her surgery she's able to do things not possible before, such as walking and hopefully visiting other family members.

"Some new babies are coming. I can't not see that," Christensen said.

And Stys says because the procedure is so new, doctors do not know how long the valve will last. But it's been done in Europe for around five years and patients are still doing well.

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