New procedure helping patients with failing heart valves

Defective valves are one of the most common causes of heart failure in the elderly. While surgery helps some, for others it's just too risky. Now, there's a new, less invasive solution.

Retired meat cutter Will Neighbors is still plenty sharp. When he was diagnosed with a failing heart valve, he knew he was in trouble.

Will Neighbors, had heart valve replaced, explains how much the failing heart valve affected his life, "I just couldn't really do anything. I couldn't much more than walk across the floor, and then I just had to labor to do that."

Due to his age and medical history, surgery wasn't possible. At Duke University, Will was offered a new less invasive option. A stent valve delivered on a catheter through a groin artery to the heart.

J. Kevin Harrison, MD, Professor of Medicine, Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories Duke University, explains how the process is different then other surgeries, "Rather than removing the valve this catheter-based system is a stent that opens and pushes the old scarred valve out of the way."

The new valve slides in to immediately replace the old one, and restores normal function.

Neighbors describes the difference it made for him, "Every time a nurse came by I'd snatch them little gizmos off her neck and listen to my heart, how smooth it was, and before it was just raggedy as anything you ever seen or heard."

Now, Will is feeling stronger, and feistier with every step. "My great great grandpa lived to be 114. I'm shooting for that number.”

With humor and a new heart valve anything's possible.

Duke is one of several sites around the US testing a stent valve in patients who are at high risk of complications from open heart surgery.

Patients who have the stent valve procedure are typically home within a few days.



BACKGROUND: Defective heart valves are one of the most common causes of heart failure in the elderly. A defective heart valve is one that fails to open and close fully. A valve also may not be able to close completely, leading to regurgitation (blood leaking back through the valve). Usually people who have congenital heart valve defects may need treatment with drugs, but some have to undergo surgery. Surgery is not recommended for patients who are older or have other medical conditions (Source:

TRADITIONAL TREATMENT: A median sternotomy is a type of surgical procedure in which a vertical inline incision is made along the sternum, after which the sternum itself is divided, or "cracked". Breaking the sternum provides access to the heart and lungs for surgical procedures such as heart transplants and corrective surgery for defects including heart valve repair and heart valve replacement operations. ( Source:

A LESS INVASIVE SOLUTION: Duke cardiologists can replace an old valve with a new pig valve delivered on the end of a catheter through a groin artery to the heart. Doctor J. Kevin Harrison explains how the new valve works. "It's put in through a less traumatic surgery. We still make a small incision but it's in the groin area to expose the artery and then the valve is inserted through a catheter. The catheter is larger than standard heart catheterization catheters, it's about as big as the end of my pinky, and it goes through the blood vessels in the leg or through a blood vessel in the arm. It's positioned across the abnormal valve. Rather than removing the valve, this catheter based valve is a stent that opens and pushes the old scarred valve out of the way. The minute that it pushes the old scarred valve out of the way, it has a valve sewn within the stent, which is really pig valve, similar to those surgeons have been using for years." (Source: Interview with Ivanhoe Broadcast News)

J. Kevin Harrison MD
Professor of Medicine
Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories
Duke University Medical Center
(919) 681-3763 (Suzi Maloney)

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