Myrtle Cotter would have rather been playing Yahtzee, Bunco, or Bingo,
over the summer, but she was at Kaweah Delta Medical Center – far
from the common room where her friends and neighbors gathered once a week
to socialize in their Tulare apartment complex. Myrtle had been having
trouble breathing, so she called 911. In a matter of minutes she was in
an ambulance on her way to Kaweah Delta.
“It really scared me. I didn’t know what the problem was,”
said Myrtle, who in November will celebrate her 86th birthday.
It didn’t take long for doctors to get to the heart of Myrtle’s
breathing problem. It was a stenotic heart valve, Dr. Shashi Sharma told
her, meaning the aortic valve between the left ventricle of her heart
and the aorta was not opening properly. As a result of that, and not having
received treatment for an irregular heart rate that she had been diagnosed
with nine years earlier, Myrtle was having trouble breathing. Her heart
valve was deteriorating.
"All I could think about was that I was going to have to have open
heart surgery and that scared the pants off me,” she said.
Unfortunately, open heart surgery was not an option for Myrtle. Doctors
feared it would be too risky her. Instead, doctors offered Myrtle Transcatheter
Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) at Kaweah Delta. TAVR is
a minimally invasive procedure that allows doctors to replace an aortic
valve in patients who are too weak to undergo open heart surgery. Instead
of getting to the heart through a person’s sternum, TAVR allows
doctors to make a small incision in the patient’s leg and insert
the new valve into place using a catheter.
Over the summer, Kaweah Delta became one of 50 hospitals in California
to offer this procedure. At Kaweah Delta, cardiothoracic surgeons and
interventional cardiologists including Dr. Sergio Caminha, Dr. Leheb Araim,
Dr. Shasi Sharma, Dr. Aditya Verma, and Dr. Ankur Gupta are working hand-in-hand
to do what is best for the patient.
“It’s really changed the way we take care of the patient,”
said Ankur Gupta, an Interventional Cardiologist who is part of the team
performing TAVR on patients at Kaweah Delta. “Our patients generally
have a short recovery in the hospital, then return to normal activities
soon after, while open heart patients need at least a week-long hospital
stay and then require a good month to six weeks to resume normal activities
Other benefits of the less invasive TAVR approach include shorter hospital
stays, relief of symptoms (sometimes immediately), improved heart function,
and reduced pain and anxiety, Dr. Gupta said.
Myrtle jumped at the chance to undergo TAVR. “I was at the point
where I had to do something and it was worth a try. I wasn’t ready
to give up everything,” she said.
After surgery, Myrtle returned to her normal activities – laundry,
mopping, vaccuming and playing a good game of Bunco with friends. While
they may seem like small feats to others, they are big accomplishments to her.
"I just feel like I have some more living I want to do" she
said. "I want to keep going as long as I can."