KEARNEY — Shirley Rosenthal talks fondly about being the first person to undergo the new TAVR heart procedure at Kearney Regional Medical Center on April 23.
“They put me to sleep and I didn’t know a thing until I woke up. It was wonderful,” Rosenthal, 95, said.
The second patient, Marlene Mohr, 85, went home to North Platte just 24 hours after her TAVR procedure the same day.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” she said.
The two women were the first TAVR patients in central or western Nebraska. The surgery was previously available only in Lincoln, Omaha or Denver but is now being done at Kearney Regional.
TAVR, or transcatheter aortic valve replacement, is an option for replacing the aortic valve in a patient’s heart. It is less invasive than open heart surgery, and recovery is much faster, according to DeAnn McClellan, an advanced practical registered nurse who is KRMC’s valve clinic coordinator and cardiology nurse practitioner.
“I describe it as planning for a wedding,” McClellan said. “The preparation takes months, while the procedure is completed within an hour or two.”
The procedure is done on patients experiencing narrowing of the valve in the aorta. The narrowing keeps the valve from opening fully, which in turn reduces blood flow to the body and makes the heart work harder. The heart may weaken, causing chest pain, fatigue and shortness of breath.
Prior to the surgery, patients undergo many tests during a one- to two-month period. For patients who live far from Kearney, “we try our absolute best to perform all the tests in the fewer number of trips, including letting a patient do lab work with their primary care provider,” McClellan said.
Patients meet with four KRMC staff members — McClellan, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Michael Bibler, interventional cardiologist Dr. Vivek Varma and Bibler’s nurse practitioner Kelsey Peterson — to decide whether they would fare better with TAVR or open-heart surgery.
The TAVR procedure is done in what is called the Hybrid Operating Room. Doctors make an incision in the groin area, then place a thin, flexible tube into the artery to guide the artificial heart valve up to the heart and replace the diseased aortic valve.
Mohr, 85, had no history of heart trouble, but her daughters noticed that she was out of breath after walking or working in her garden. Her physician diagnosed a malfunctioning heart valve.
“He couldn’t do the TAVR procedure in North Platte, but he recommended that I get it done in Kearney. I was really excited. That would cut an extra hour and a half off my driving time to Lincoln,” she said.
Mohr saw doctors in Kearney “at least four times” for tests and more. “Dr. Bibler explained to me how they’d go in and what they’d do, and it materialized from there. I was one of the first patients to have that surgery,” she said.
She “sailed through” the procedure April 23 and was discharged within 24 hours. “The nurses gave us their personal phone numbers in case I had any questions or problems when I got home,” she said.
Now, two weeks later, she still is healing, “but I feel like I can do more because I’m getting more oxygen. I get my breath back when I stop and rest. It’s working exactly like they told me,” she said.
At 85, the energetic Mohr still does her own housework, plants a garden and loves being outside. “I used to mow my own grass, too,” she said. She has three daughters, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, for whom she occasionally babysits.
“This surgery gave me a few more years of life,” she said.