TMC celebrates 200 TAVR procedures – Tucson visitor thankful for life-saving technique

Furman 2Pennsylvania residents Frank and Jan Furman travel to Tucson every winter. This year, the couple was also visiting to attend an award ceremony for their daughter.

While in Tucson, a cardiac emergency put Frank Furman’s life in jeopardy. Thanks to a minimally invasive heart procedure known as TAVR, Furman has a new lease on life and was able to attend his daughter’s ceremony only a few days after the procedure.

Tucson Medical Center is celebrating the completion of 200 TAVR heart procedures. TAVR stands for transcatheter aortic valve replacement, a technique used to replace the aortic heart valve with less scarring, pain and recovery time than traditional open-chest surgery.

Furman had been experiencing some heart challenges, but received the OK to travel. Still, Jan worried for her husband as they made their way from Erie, Pennsylvania to Tucson. “He’s such a trooper and never complains, but I could tell he was more winded than usual.”

TMC Cardiovascular CenterThe couple enjoys southwest culture, and visited one of their favorite Tucson spots. “I couldn’t miss the Sons of the Pioneers show at Old Tucson Studios,” Furman said with a smile. But it was during the performance that things took a turn. Furman became so faint and winded after walking just 15 feet that he had to stop to catch his breath. The frightening experience motivated him to seek a cardiologist at Tucson Medical Center.

The structural heart team at TMC completed a number of advanced diagnostics and determined Furman’s aortic valve needed to be replaced immediately. While his family was concerned for his health, Furman had something else on his mind. “My daughter’s award ceremony was five days away – she’s worked so hard and I didn’t want to miss it,” Furman said.

waggonerThe close-knit family received some relief when Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Thomas Waggoner explained Furman was a strong candidate for TAVR.

With TAVR, an interventional cardiologist (or surgeon) guides the new heart valve through a catheter inserted in the upper thigh. The cardiologist then maneuvers into the heart and expands the new valve over the damaged valve, effectively replacing it with a tight seal.

The minimally-invasive procedure is an effective option for patients who are an intermediate/high surgery risk. In addition, patients experience minimal discomfort and a three-day average hospital stay – with patients returning to their normal activity after discharge.

“I felt better almost instantly,” Furman said. “The next day I was walking so fast that the physical therapist told me to slow down.”

Two days later, Furman left the hospital feeling great. “He looked so good! His face was full of color again and he had no trouble getting around,” said Furman’s wife, Jan. As for pain, “He didn’t even fill the prescription for pain meds,” she said happily.

Frank Furman’s life has changed; he’s no longer winded, has a strong prognosis and looks forward to rounding up the golf clubs again. “It’s the best thing that happened,” his wife of 57 years said.

TAVR Frank FurmanFurman wasn’t shy about sharing what he thought the greatest advantage of TAVR was. “I recovered fast enough to see my daughter Cheryl receive the Most Inspirational Mentor of the Year award; it was fantastic.”

TAVR is one of many procedures performed through TMC’s structural heart program, featuring advanced technologies, a specially-trained staff and a team of physicians who work with patients to evaluate and determine the best treatment plan.

The Furman family will soon be returning to Pennsylvania, where a new schedule for the patriarch includes walking, golf, cardiac rehabilitation and maybe a little more golf. When asked what he’d say to patients who are candidates for TAVR, Furman didn’t mince any words. “Go do it!”

TMC’s Structural Heart Program means more options for cardiac care

Tucson Medical Center has launched a Structural Heart Program that expands cardiovascular services, making TMC a one-stop institution for all types of cardiac treatments.  It provides a full range of care for things like congenital heart defects, valve problems, or cardiomyopathy, which includes problems with the heart muscle.

Dr. William Thomas Pima Heart Cardiologist,  TMC's Structural Heart and Valve Team Medical Director

Dr. William Thomas
Pima Heart Cardiologist,
TMC’s Structural Heart and Valve Team Medical Director

TMC’s Structural Heart and Valve Team consists of physicians from multiple heart and vascular specialties from around Tucson, and is led by Medical Director Dr. William Thomas.  “We are thrilled to have a full Structural Heart Program.  TMC is providing cutting-edge cardiovascular care to patients in need,” he said.  By working together, these physicians can provide the best possible outcomes for patients with structural heart diseases and conditions.  As part of the program, TMC has become one of 250 sites in the country to offer the transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR.

TAVR is for patients who have been diagnosed with aortic stenosis, a life-threatening disease that can progress quickly and can’t be treated medically.  Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic-valve opening that restricts normal blood flow to the entire body.  It can cause heart failure and shortness of breath.  Unfortunately it is a common public health problem affecting millions of people in the U.S.  An estimated 7 percent of the population over the age of 65 has it.  It’s more likely to affect men than women, as an estimated 80 percent of adults with symptomatic aortic stenosis are men.

Click photo for video of Bill Martin and his new lease on life following his TAVR procedure at TMC.

Bill Martin has a new lease on life following his TAVR procedure at TMC.

Oro Valley resident Bill Marvin is no stranger to cardiac procedures – in fact, he has nine stents in his heart.  “My heart is probably more artificial than it is real,” he laughed.  Marvin was diagnosed with aortic stenosis in February 2013.  His quality of life – not great.

Patients can undergo surgery to have their valve replaced, but those who are too sick to qualify for the operation had no other options before TAVR was created.  “This does not require open chest surgery,” explained Kristie Walker, ACNP-BC, TAVR nurse coordinator.  “Physicians place catheters in a patient’s groin instead of going through their chest.”

The difference between providing this service, and not providing this service, is the difference between life and death,” said Dr. Thomas. 

Patients must undergo an extensive work-up that can take weeks to complete before the procedure is scheduled.  Marvin’s TAVR procedure was one of the first ones performed by TMC’s TAVR team in October 2013.  At least a dozen more patients have elected to have the surgery since then.  Replacing the valve usually takes three to four hours, and requires a stay of three or four days in the hospital.  “It’s amazing,” said Walker.  “Most of these patients feel immediate relief.  As soon as they hit the ICU, they are feeling better.”

That was the case for Marvin, who said he feels himself growing better almost daily.  He works four days a week at the guard gate of his community, and is looking forward to resuming his exercise routine.  Many TAVR patients also complete outpatient cardiac rehab.

The Structural Heart Program is the latest showing of TMC’s long-standing commitment to providing patients a higher level of cardiovascular care.  TMC is proud to be the first hospital in Arizona to be awarded Atrial Fibrillation certification, and the first hospital in Tucson to receive Congestive Heart Failure accreditation.  TMC has also been re-accredited in Chest Pain, after earning its original endorsement in 2010.  All three designations come from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care.

“We’re so excited to be able to offer TAVR at TMC because by replacing the valve in these patients, it will help eliminate the shortness of breath, improve their quality of life and help extend their lives,” said Walker.  Dr. Thomas described the outcome of TAVR as a great step forward in the treatment of aortic stenosis.  “Not only are these patients alive, but their ability to function in everyday life improves within weeks, sometimes even days to hours after the procedure.  It really is remarkable.”

Marvin says his wife asked him for another 1o years.  “I think I’ll give her another 15,” he laughed.

For more information about Aortic Stenosis, please click here.
For more information about TAVR, please click here.

Did You Know? Improve Cardiovascular Health with Aerobic Exercise

Did you know….that in order to reap the most health benefits from exercise, your intensity should generally be at a low to moderate level, focusing on aerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise is a continuous activity that utilizes large muscle groups over an extended period of time. The primary energy sources to complete such a task are oxygen and fat stores, so you lose weight by burning the most calories.

Balance, however, is important. Overdoing it can increase your risk of injury and burnout.

If you’re new to regular exercise and physical activity, you may need to start at a low intensity and gradually ramp up.

Tucson Medical Center’s cardiac rehabilitation center has an exercise program available, with a doctor’s referral, to employees and the community at large for a nominal $25 a month. To qualify for the program, which is designed to help people head off coronary artery disease, participants must have a risk factor for heart disease, whether that be obesity, smoking, stress, diabetes, high cholesterol , high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease.

Participants may use a variety of equipment, from treadmills to recumbent bicycles and weight training machines. Time slots for workouts are during the clinic’s regular hours of operation.

While gyms are a fine option for many people, the cardiac rehabilitation center offers another level of expertise, said supervisor Mark Gaxiola.

Clinical staff, including registered nurses and physical therapists, are on hand to not only help prescribe an effective and safe exercise prescription, but to be there in case anyone becomes symptomatic. Because the facility is in a clinic, staff can check blood pressures and blood sugars and then decide whether further treatment is needed at an urgent care or the emergency room dictated on the symptoms at hand.

“Peace of mind is important,” Gaxiola said. “You won’t find the same commitment or experience and licensures that we carry in a regular gym environment.”

Cardiac Medical unit reopens after facelift

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Earlier this fall, TMC closed down Unit 500, Cardiac Medical, to give it a makeover.  Over the years, the hospital has been closing one unit at a time in order to update them.

Patients began occupying the unit on Monday.

“The patients have expressed their gratitude and everyone loves the work that’s been done,” said unit manager, Joyce Drozd. “It’s very exciting. The place still has that ‘new car’ smell; it’s all shiny and new.”

The work includes new flooring,  repainted and textured walls, renovated bathrooms, updated lighting and more. For the staff, new space was carved out of storage areas, the lounge was enlarged and a consultation room was included for doctors to speak with family.

And at the top of the walls visitors will see a stylized TMC heart, artwork of the TMC CardioVascular service line, spaced out every 10 feet. As a cardiac unit patients may be just getting back on their feet,  so staff wanted an easy way to measure a patient’s progress and to make sure they don’t overdo it.


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461