Prior to his transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure at NYU Winthrop Hospital in October of last year, Woodside resident Frank Zysk struggled to walk more than one city block without stopping to catch his breath. Now, the 72-year-old can walk 4 miles a day and hits the gym 4 or 5 times a week.
“I feel 20 years younger,” said Zysk, who has aortic valve stenosis, and had other health issues that would have made standard open heart surgery very high-risk. “I have a new lease on life.”
TAVR is a revolutionary, minimally invasive and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved procedure used to treat people with severe aortic heart valve stenosis—a chronic condition in which the aortic valve does not open properly, hindering the flow of blood from the heart to the rest of the body. For people who have aortic valve stenosis, like Zysk, the heart works harder to pump enough blood through the smaller valve opening, which can lead to chest pain, heart palpitations, fatigue, heart murmur, and possibly heart failure.
“He’s feeling great, like a new human being and his heart function has improved,” said Nickolaos Michelakis, MD, the NYU Winthrop cardiologist who treats Zysk. “TAVR can offer a quality of life that would otherwise not be there.”
Prior to TAVR, the traditional primary treatment for aortic valve stenosis was open heart surgery, in which the old valve is removed and replaced with a new valve. But not everyone is eligible for this invasive open heart procedure. TAVR employs a newly designed valve to take over for the diseased valve, which can be placed in the heart without standard open heart surgery. This is done by inserting the valve through an artery in the groin and advancing it into the heart using a catheter. The valve is then expanded and immediately functions in place of the patient’s own valve. TAVR is less invasive than open heart surgery and patients can expect a faster recovery.
“The best part was I went in for the procedure on a Friday, and was back home by Sunday,” said Zysk, who was at the gym just one month after his procedure.
Out of thousands of hospitals around the country, only those hospitals with the highest level of cardiac care were selected to perform this new, lifesaving procedure. NYU Winthrop was selected as one out of only 70 hospitals nationwide to receive the new TAVR technology, and has recently expanded its renowned TAVR program into the third phase of a prestigious research study called the PARTNER trials, which have demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of the Edwards Sapien valve. These trials led to FDA approval in November 2011 for the use of the Edwards Sapien valve in inoperable patients, and the ongoing trials are helping to determine its suitability for lower risk patients.
“PARTNER 1 was for high-risk and inoperable patients, and PARTNER 2 was for people considered intermediate risk. We’ve had great results and the data is promising that TAVR can be the procedure of choice for patients with aortic valve stenosis,” said Scott L. Schubach, MD, chairman of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. “The next frontier in the PARTNER 3 trial is examining low-risk patients, who tend to be younger people, or older patients with fewer chronic illnesses.”
“We are very excited to be an early adopter and leader of this technologically advanced treatment, providing a life-changing new alternative for patients with aortic valve stenosis,” said Richard K. Schwartz, DO, interventional cardiologist and director of cardiovascular outreach at NYU Winthrop. Zysk’s procedure was performed by Dr. Schwartz and the cardiac surgical team at NYU Winthrop. “Now that TAVR has been FDA approved, we have been able to offer this lifesaving treatment to hundreds of patients for whom there was previously little hope,” he added.
NYU Winthrop now has one of the busiest TAVR centers in the region with consistently excellent results, helping patients like Zysk lead healthier lives.
“The team approach in the NYU Winthrop community creates an environment that allows us to excel with these new technologies and treatments,” said Kevin P. Marzo, MD, chief of the Division of Cardiology at NYU Winthrop. “We all work together to make TAVR a success and ultimately improve lives.”