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Heartbeat: Heart Valve Replacement Surgery

A family doctor may have saved the life of one 69-year-old Arkansan.
A family doctor may have saved the life of one 69-year-old Arkansan.

Richard Robertson was remarkably calm and confident just a few hours before his scheduled open-heart surgery.

"I feel like I am in extremely good hands," he says.

Robertson was diagnosed with aortic valvular stenosis, which affects about 1.5 million Americans, just three weeks before the surgery.

"I noticed that I was having a great deal of shortness of breath," Robertson recalls. "I went to my family physician. He listened to my heart and felt like there was something wrong."

Robertson is having an aortic valve replacement as well as a graft replacement of an enlarged ascending aorta.

"It's more common that patients that need aortic valve replacement also need replacement of the ascending aorta to prevent a very serious and sometimes fatal condition called aortic dissection from occurring," says Dr. Fred Meadors, Robertson's cardiovascular surgeon.

Many are familiar with aortic dissection after the death of actor John Ritter in 2003.

Without an aortic valve replacement, studies show 50 percent of patients will not survive more than an average of two years after the onset of symptoms.

Once diagnosed though, aortic stenosis is highly treatable.

"The success rates are quite high in good-risk patients. The survival rate is in the 98 percent plus range," says Dr. Meadors. "For this, to replace the ascending aorta, ordinarily we do a full incision in the front of the chest. It can be done in selected circumstances through a limited upper sternotomy.

"There is always a risk of bleeding or infection, but what we tell the patients is the risk of not having surgery is much higher than the risk of the operation itself," Dr. Meadors says.

The surgery usually takes about 2.5 hours and requires about a five day stay in the hospital.

An echocardiogram is the primary test used to diagnose severe aortic stenosis.

We're happy to report everything went great with Robertson's surgery.
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