By Hussam Suradi, MD
I was in medical school when my dad suffered from a heart attack that required an emergency procedure. It made me realize that sheer minutes can make a difference in treating cardiac patients. I wanted to make that difference for people like my father; I wanted to save lives in the minutes that mattered most.
One thing I love about my job is being able to tell patients that they have more options — that it’s not the end of the road. And frankly, this is the heart of our work as interventional cardiologists as we can provide minimally invasive treatments for structural heart diseases.
Every day, we see people who think nothing can be done for their heart problems, but most of the time, they’re willing to do whatever it takes to improve their quality of life. Perhaps they’re older, or maybe they’re dealing with illness or birth defects that limit their possible treatments. The good news is, there are always more options.
Alternatives to open-heart surgery
Structural heart intervention is a relatively new field in cardiology, treating patients with heart valve problems such as tight or leaky valves, or those born with birth defects. In the past 10 years especially, technology and devices for treating structural heart conditions have changed dramatically. Today, patients are treated for these conditions through minimally invasive procedures rather than open-heart surgeries, regardless of how old or sick they may be.
One of the biggest innovations we’ve seen is the treatment of valvular heart disease through minimally invasive catheter-based procedures. One of these procedures is called TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement), which involves replacing the aortic valve without needing open-heart surgery.
With TAVR specifically, patients recover much faster. In fact, they can usually go home the very next day. Additionally, they typically don’t need cardiac rehab after the procedure and they surely don’t endure as much pain — whereas, open-heart surgery patients typically go through cardiac rehab and need several months of recovery before feeling “normal” again.
Aside from a faster recovery, data has now shown that TAVR is as effective and safe as open-heart surgery. Only recently, but fortunately, TAVR was expanded to low-risk patients after initially only being for high-risk patients who were not candidates for surgery.
Another similar treatment option is MitraClip, specifically for those with severe leakage in their mitral valve. Using a catheter, the interventional cardiologist attaches a small clip to the valve to enable it to close more completely without leaking. Given the minimally invasive nature, this is another ideal treatment option for those not eligible for traditional surgery.
A better solution and quality of life
At least 30% of the people we care for have had some sort of heart procedure before — whether it’s a stent procedure or bypass surgery. When they come to us, they not only gain a more hopeful outlook, but they experience the full “heart team” approach. They’re evaluated by an interventional cardiologist and a cardiac surgeon who, together, evaluate their data and tests to recommend the best treatment options available — including some of our latest clinical trials.
It’s so rewarding to be able to tell patients they have another shot at life, and it’s even more powerful to feel their gratitude. If you ever feel it’s the end of the road, know that there are always more options.
Hussam Suradi, MD, is a fellowship-trained structural/interventional cardiologist at Rush.