News

6.15.2012

New Valve Improves Patient’s Heart Just in Time for Anniversary

Willard Lee hadn’t planned to spend his 60th wedding anniversary in UMiami at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Coronary Care Unit, but the fact that he and his wife Betty were celebrating the June 14 milestone at all – with a chocolate cake sent by his interventional cardiologist a day before his discharge – was enough to put a big smile on his face, and the twinkle back in his blue eyes.

Even better than the cake was how much better the 83-year-old retired teacher felt just a day after Eduardo de Marchena, M.D., professor of medicine and surgery and UM’s principal investigator for a national clinical trial testing the Medtronic CoreValve, implanted a newly available 31 mm valve into Lee’s heart via a catheter inserted into the femoral artery in the groin. The minimally invasive procedure allowed the replacement of Lee’s long-dysfunctional aortic valve, which had all but immobilized him and, combined with his advanced age, the size of his heart, and other ailments, saddled him with the diagnosis he knew meant his days were numbered: inoperable.

“I would say the day after the surgery, I was 60 percent better from what I was,” said Lee, who like a growing number of seniors suffers from aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the valve that restricts blood flow. “The first thing I noticed I had color again, and I felt energy. The first thing I did was push myself off from the chair and stand up on my own. This is a completely new lease on life and I think Dr. de Marchena should be deemed a saint.”

Lee, who spent 22 years in the Navy and another 22 as a teacher in Miami-Dade and Seminole counties, was the first patient enrolled in de Marchena’s CoreValve Continued Access clinical trial to test Medtronic’s investigational percutaneous heart valve, which differs from the already approved Edwards valve and, most importantly, comes in a larger size. After learning from an episode of Breakthrough Medicine four years ago that UM was the site of the Edwards trial, the first percutaneous aortic valve replacement trial in Florida, Lee tried to qualify for that and the CoreValve Pivotal trial at UM, but was ineligible because all the available percutaneous valves were too small for his large heart.

“Over the last year and a half, Mr. Lee had to come to Miami for recurrent balloon dilations (valvuloplasty of the aortic valve) to keep him alive long enough for the new size to become available for trial in the U.S.,’’ said de Marchena, who led the multispecialty team of cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, vascular surgeons and cardiac anesthesiologists who assisted in Lee’s care and performed the valve replacement procedure on June 11, three days before his anniversary.

Earlier this year, Lee and his family finally heard the news they hadn’t expected for at least another year: The FDA had approved the Continued Access trial, and Medtronic had the 31 mm size he needed. “The day I got that information I was elated,” Lee said.

It was, to hear Lee tell it, much like the elation he felt on that early September morning in 1949 when he boarded a train to head back to the Naval base in San Diego, and spotted the young woman who, less than three years later — on June 14, 1952, to be exact — would become his wife.

“It was,” he said, “first love at first sight.”

In addition to de Marchena, other specialists on Lee’s team included Alex Ferreira, M.D., voluntary associate professor of medicine; Tomas Salerno, M.D., professor of surgery; Yiliam Rodriguez, M.D., assistant professor of clinical anesthesia; and Handel Robinson, M.D., assistant professor of surgery.

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