Thanks to a pair of minimally invasive heart treatments at Carolinas HealthCare System's Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, Marvin avoided open-heart surgery and got back to caring for the love of his life.

News, Your Health | 4 years ago

Saved from Heart Surgery, Husband Can Stay by His Ailing Wife's Side

Thanks to a pair of minimally invasive heart treatments, Marvin avoided open-heart surgery and got back to caring for the love of his life. 

Marvin Knecht’s heart probably skipped a beat when he realized having invasive surgery might mean not being able to see his wife during the months-long recovery. 

For decades, the 80-year-old had been a steady rock for the love of his life, even taking on the role of caretaker when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. But now he was sick himself, and his heart issues were making it hard for him to care for his wife like he always had.

He needed surgery, but knew the long recovery could keep him away from his wife for months. He already felt frustrated by not having the stamina to get in and out of the car to drive to Rock Hill, SC, where she lives in a care facility.

“I’d never had any kind of surgery. I was worried something might happen,” says Marvin. “And it made me wonder, ‘Who will care for my wife?’” 

Weaker by the Day

A routine exam had recently revealed an irregular heartbeat and “a lot of noise, like blood squeaking through the valves,” he says. He was referred to Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, where doctors discovered one heart valve was severely narrowed and another was leaking. 

Marvin was told his heart was going to get worse quickly, and it did. He grew weaker by the day.

“Just a few months prior to his surgery, he was playing tennis several days a week,” says cardiologist William Downey, MD, one of Marvin’s doctors. “But then things deteriorated quickly to where he was struggling to climb even half a flight of stairs.” 

It was critical that Marvin get his heart fixed – but he didn’t know how he could without spending too much time away from his wife. Fortunately, he was about to find the solution he needed.

TAVR Saves This Love Story

Doctors told Marvin there was a way to fix his heart valves without traditional open-heart surgery: a pair of minimally invasive procedures that rely on the use of a narrow tube called a catheter. One procedure would correct his aortic valve and reverse the stenosis, while the other would repair his mitral valve.

The first was called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). Along with Sanger colleague Eric Skipper, MD, Dr. Downey placed a new valve directly inside Marvin’s narrowed, leaky valve. Much like placing a stent into an artery, the new valve was passed through the artery in Marvin’s leg and guided up to his heart with the help of detailed digital imaging. While he was sedated, he stayed conscious throughout the procedure.

TAVR has become a game-changing procedure at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, where the center does a region-leading 220 cases a year. A milestone 500th TAVR was performed in June, and Sanger cardiologists report less than 1 percent of patients have died from the procedure itself, or complications from it. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the procedure for elderly high-risk patients in 2012, and cardiologists at Sanger predict it will be approved for intermediate-risk patients soon and low-risk patients in the not-too-distant future.

Shortly after the TAVR procedure, Michael Rinaldi, MD, a third member of Marvin’s team of specialists at Sanger, placed a clip-like device in his failing mitral valve also using a catheter. 

The minimally invasive treatments were just what Marvin needed to get back to caring for his wife. During his recovery at home, he was able to visit her. A month later, he was bragging about how well he felt.

“It’s a great feeling!” says Marvin, explaining his stamina has returned. He is fully engaging in life again, back to hitting tennis balls on the court and showering his wife with care.

In recognition of a $1 million commitment to research from the Mattei Foundation, the newly renovated Cardiothoracic Surgery Intensive Care Unit within Sanger has been named in honor of the Mattei family. The 14-bed unit provides 24-hour inpatient care to adult and geriatric patients requiring intensive care and recovery from cardiac procedures. 

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