Up & coming procedure offers alternative to open heart surgery


An emerging procedure that’s done right here in Buffalo is sometimes replacing traditional open-heart surgery, and the results for patients who qualify are turning heads in the medical world.

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement – or TAVR for short – is changing the game.

It’s a less invasive procedure for people who may be too sick for open heart surgery, but it’s starting to prove useful for healthy people, too.

The TAVR procedure works by inserting a catheter through the upper leg and weaving that through the body to deliver a new valve to the heart.

Where the catheter enters the body is the only incision point, making it a minimally invasive procedure. That brings the recovery time down from weeks or months required with opening the chest to just days.

Recently, TAVR has been in the spotlight because it was the right solution for Mick Jagger, who suddenly needed a heart valve replacement and hopes to get back to touring with the Rolling Stones soon.

It turned out to be the right solution for Donna Couhig of Lackawanna, too.

“I would be out breath just walking, you know, 20 steps,” recalls Couhig, who had the TAVR procedure on Nov. 1.

Couhig had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. She qualified for the procedure and went home after just a day and a half.

“And I feel much better,” she said.

Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo has been performing TAVR since 2015 after it became commercially available in 2011.

“It definitely is a large advance because many more patients are being treated now than could otherwise be treated with lower risk than would have been in the past, said Dr. Joseph Gelormini.

Dr. Joseph Gelormini, an expert surgeon in catheter-based techniques, and Dr. Stephen Downing, an expert surgeon in traditional heart surgery, are the duo who work collaboratively on TAVR procedures at Mercy Hospital.

Dr. Gelormini is an interventional cardiologist and co-director of the Cardiac Cath Lab. Dr. Downing is the chairman of cardiothoracic surgery at Mercy.

“Now, we can offer surgery to patients who were really too sick to get through regular surgery,” Dr. Downing said. “Now we can offer much quicker recovery to a large group of patients, so it changes your strategy.”

Couhig is enjoying an enhanced quality of life.

“I feel great. I even try to find other things to do because I have more energy now,” Couhig said.

There are still instances where open heart surgery is the preferred way to go. For example, Dr. Downing explained that if a patient is having more than one thing done with his or her heart, opening up may make more sense to complete are the required procedures. But it’s worth asking your doctor is TAVR is right for you.

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