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!”

Valve replacement surgery allows 96-year-old Tucson man to fulfill bucket list

Einstein Pic

Seymour Einstein with his wife Audrey

At 96 years old, Seymour Einstein has a lot of living to do with his new wife, Audrey. Married for two years, the pair has big plans to crisscross the country. Einstein, a retired structural engineer, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1941 before serving in WWII. He wants to take a trip back to Annapolis, Maryland, visit his hometown of Chicago and spend time with his great grandchildren in New York and Los Angeles.

But a recent visit to the cardiologist temporarily halted those plans. Einstein was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. “My doctor discovered that my aortic valve was a third of the size it should be, which was causing the heart failure,” he said. Einstein was referring to aortic stenosis, a life-threatening disease that narrows the aortic-valve opening and restricts normal blood flow to the entire body. As the heart works harder to pump enough blood through the smaller opening, the heart eventually becomes weak, causing heart failure. Multiple tests determined Einstein was a candidate for transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR.

TAVR is a method of putting in a new aortic valve without having to make any incisions in a patient’s chest. It’s used for high-risk patients who are not candidates for open heart surgery. Einstein opted to have it done.


Drs. Raj Bose, William Thomas and Thomas Waggoner

During the procedure, Drs. William Thomas and Thomas Waggoner used the latest technology available for valve replacement called the Sapien 3. It’s a valve made of cow tissue attached to a cobalt-chromium frame. When it’s compressed, it’s placed on the end of a tube-like device called a balloon catheter. It’s then inserted through an artery in the patient’s leg – similar to feeding a piece of spaghetti through a straw – until it reaches the diseased aortic valve. The valve is then expanded by the balloon and anchors to the diseased valve. The new valve opens and closes properly guiding the blood to flow in the correct direction – no open heart surgery required.

sapien 3

Sapien 3 valve for TAVR procedurese

“They put me under and when I woke up, I felt no pain,” said Einstein. “In fact, I had forgotten that they had gone up my groin.” Einstein was discharged from TMC just two days later and is currently receiving cardiac rehabilitation. Not only is he feeling better; he’s able to live life without feeling woozy most of the day. “I take a variety of medications,” he explained. “One of the side effects of all my medications is dizziness. Before the procedure, I would feel dizzy from the time I woke up until about 3 o’clock every day. The strange thing – and the good thing – is that ever since I had my procedure, I don’t get dizzy anymore.”

Einstein is now working hard to build up his strength and endurance. He hopes to eventually get back to hitting the links, attending his weekly lunch club and playing bridge with his friends. And soon enough, he’s confident he’ll be booking those plane tickets.

“If I were to recommend a hospital, I would recommend TMC. The staff is competent. They’re courteous and cheerful. I couldn’t ask for better care. I want to thank them because they really deserve my thanks – everyone from the valet who parked my car all the way up to the CEO.”

Vital response: Why one family is especially grateful for TMC’s cardiac services

Nadine Huddleston TMC TAVR patient

Nadine Huddleston
TMC TAVR patient

When Nadine Huddleston was diagnosed with aortic stenosis 15 years ago, she didn’t think much of it.  She was pretty tired, but chalked it up to old age.  “My pastor told me, ‘Nadine – no one ever died from a heart murmur,’” she said.  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.  It’s a common public heart problem affecting millions of people in the U.S.  And it can be fatal.

Sure, she thought about getting it fixed.  But that’s where it stopped.  “I asked my doctor what he would have to do to fix it, and he said they’d have to cut me open.  I was not about to have that done,” she said. 

In August of 2013, as she was preparing for knee surgery, her cardiologist grew increasingly concerned.  The surgery would have to wait.  Her aortic stenosis had gone from bad to worse.  Luckily for Huddleston, medicine had really advanced.  Open chest surgery was no longer the only way to treat her condition.  “I was between a rock and a hard place because I wanted to do it, but I was frightened.  So when I found out they could take care of the problem without cutting me open, I was all for it,” she said. 

Tucson Medical Center is one of 250 sites in the country to offer the transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR.  During the procedure, physicians replace the valve by placing catheters in a patient’s groin or under their breast, instead of opening up the chest. 

Huddleston had her surgery in February of 2014.

Gary & Kathie Brauchla

Gary & Kathie Brauchla

At 85 years old, she describes her quality of life as “pretty good.”  For her family, it was the second big bullet they managed to dodge the past couple of years.  Huddleston’s son-in-law, Gary Brauchla, suffered cardiac arrest in his sleep.  His wife, Kathie, performed CPR, saving his life.  Brauchla ran a 5k eight months later, and has made it his mission to spread awareness about the importance of CPR and AED training.  He also visits cardiac patients at TMC who are just starting their journey, and is very active with TMC’s cardiac rehabilitation.

Huddleston is taking it easy, and will start cardiac rehabilitation when her cardiologist decides the time is right.  And when she does, she’ll have at least one familiar face there to walk her through it.

Please click here to read more about TMC’s Structural Heart Program including the remarkable story of Bill Marvin, one of TMC’s first TAVR patients.

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.

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