Percutaneous Valve Replacement Provides A Second Chance at Life

My name is Peggy Adams. I’m a retired schoolteacher, and I live with my daughter and grandson in Pensacola, Florida. I am 76 years old, and I’ve been living with congestive heart failure for years. In May of this year, I came to Emory to undergo valve replacement.

I suffered from aortic stenosis for three years, and because of my heart problems I entered stage IV renal failure. Unfortunately, I have several other health problems, including diabetes, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and arthritis. Over this past year, I reached the point where I was in the emergency room every three weeks. The slightest exertion would send my system into major fatigue. Typically, I’d get out of bed, walk out the door and down the ramp to the car, and by the time I reached my car I’d have to take 10 minutes before I could stop panting. I was just so tired all the time; my eyelids would close in mid-conversation.

When I was in the hospital last December, my primary heart doctor informed me that my valve would eventually stop working completely, and that she didn’t think I had more than six months left to live. She sent me to another doctor who did a workup and predicted that it was closer to three months. He told me that I needed to have my aortic valve replaced, but that he wasn’t willing to perform the surgery due to all of my other illnesses. He believed there was no way I’d survive it.

I wasn’t willing to accept the fact that this was the end. So we started researching and heard about the program at Emory with Dr. Block and Dr. Thourani. They were performing percutaneous valve replacement, where the incision is just six inches below the breast. With this procedure, they wouldn’t have to split my chest open, so the recovery would be much easier. I have a fighting spirit, so I decided that I wanted to go for it.

It was then that we traveled to Emory to take part in an interview to participate in the study. There were all these young doctors in the room who proceeded to ask me many, many questions. I had just one question that I wanted to ask them: “How many times have you done this operation?” They replied that they had performed the surgery 35 times, and I would be number 36. When I asked them about their rate of success and failure, they said that it was 100 percent, and that they hadn’t lost any patients. This was very reassuring, and it gave me a lot of confidence.

So, we came back home to Pensacola to wait for them to call. They told us to prepare to wait eight weeks fro their decision, but after only about three weeks they called and told me I needed to get back up to Emory as soon as possible. I was there by 8 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, and they had me in surgery the next day.

The doctors were very concerned that I’d go into renal failure, or that they wouldn’t be able to wean me off of the ventilator after the surgery. But I surpassed everyone’s expectations. Not only did I not go into kidney failure, but after only three or four days after surgery, I was walking the hallways to show the nurses how well I was doing. Now, here’s the amazing thing about this surgery: On the fifth day, I no longer needed a bandage at all. It healed that quickly and that perfectly. I was feeling good. On Friday, just nine days after surgery, I was back in the car headed home.

When we went back for a follow-up five weeks after the surgery, they gave me an echocardiogram, and my heart pressures were normal. For the first time in years, I had normal heart pressures. My new valve is functioning wonderfully. I sure wish everyone with valve problems could have this procedure instead of having open-heart surgery.

Now, I can go to the movies, I can go to church on Sunday, and I can visit my sisters. Even better, I’m not sleeping through life. It’s amazing. I’m very grateful to the doctors at Emory for giving me a second chance at life.

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