A specialized team recently performed the 100th TAVR at EIRMC, a significant milestone given that this innovative procedure is only performed at four hospitals in Idaho. Its medical name is Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement and the cardiology department at EIRMC is now very experienced at performing it.

That expertise made all the difference for Michael Mooney last year. At its weakest, Mooney’s heart was functioning at just a 20 - 25 percent range. He couldn’t take the stairs. He needed help getting out of a chair. His energy was near zero. It led to Mooney’s decision to retire from his position as Night Editor at the Post Register. Worst of all, Mooney had to give up performing with his beloved clarinet and saxophone.

Mooney’s health issues first arose in late 2016. When he couldn’t bounce back from fatigue, he saw his doctor and underwent an echocardiogram. The doctor referred Mooney to a cardiologist who diagnosed him with congestive heart failure and severe aortic stenosis. Additionally, he was suffering from hypertension and a mitral valve leak.

A myriad of tests quickly followed and consultations with various cardiac specialists, including cardiologist Dr. Douglas Blank; interventional cardiologist, Dr. John Chambers; and cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon, Dr. Edward Setser. This team determined that replacing Mooney’s aortic valve would resolve the aortic stenosis and enable appropriate management of his other health issues.

However, Dr. Setser did not believe that traditional open heart surgery was a viable option for Mooney. His risk factors included hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, and the heart failure. Fortunately, EIRMC offers hope in the form of minimally invasive procedure for patients like Mooney. The innovative TAVR is the last surgical option for very ill and fragile patients who are not good candidates for major heart surgery.

During the TAVR, a specially trained surgical team places a new valve inside the diseased aortic valve via a catheter that goes up through the femoral artery. After it is in place and “opened,” blood flows unobstructed to the aorta.

On April 16, 2018, Mooney underwent the procedure. As the primary implanter, Dr. Chambers inserted the catheter into the artery and delivered the new, artificial valve to the correct location. Dr. Setser assisted with placing the device, opening the valve once correct positioning was confirmed, and closing the insertion site in Mooney’s groin.

After the procedure, Mooney recovered in the ICU at EIRMC. Unexpectedly, six hours after surgery, his heart rate plummeted to a mere four beats per minute! In a small percentage of patients, the new valve pushes on the node that initiates a heartbeat. When this happens, the natural electrical circuity is disrupted. His doctors rushed Mooney back into surgery and inserted a pacemaker to normalize his heart rate. Even with this event, his total hospital stay was only four days.

Thanks to the expertise at EIRMC, Mooney’s heart has is functioning normally. He takes just one baby aspirin daily. Last September, he returned to performing with the Idaho Falls Community Concert Band, the First Community Orchestra, and with a local group known as Jazz House Big Band. Mooney and his wife Margaret are enjoying their time together, now with energy enough to pursue their musical passion. “M&M,” as their friends call them, are active in the arts and music scene in our community.

More about TAVR

As a solution for high-risk patients, the TAVR procedure reduces the risk of major complications and enables a faster recovery than open heart surgery. In order to offer the TAVR procedure, a hospital must have an established heart surgery program. Its experts include at least two surgeons, interventional cardiologists, specially trained nurses, and echocardiographers who are supported by a cardiac catheterization lab and advanced imaging technologies.

The aortic valve is the last valve in the heart that blood passes through to get to the rest of the body. Sometimes, this valve calcifies and narrows (becomes stenotic), restricting blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta. The condition, called aortic stenosis, is characterized by shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness and chest pain.

Read more about the TAVR procedure.