Heart valve procedure gives 85-year-old great-grandmother her energy back

As a person ages, slowing down and feeling less energy in one’s “golden years” may seem natural. But if that fatigue is preventing you from going about your daily activities, it’s not something normal that you should accept.

Such was the case with 85-year-old Alba Diaz, a Puerto Rico-born great-grandmother who previously lived in the Bronx, New York, for 40 years before moving to Florida to live with her daughter. The Winter Garden resident of five years had started feeling easily fatigued and short of breath from walking the dog or doing housework. She would often feel suddenly faint and dizzy when bending over or when standing up.

This went on for about a year until one day she felt very ill and asked her daughter, Jackie, to call the ambulance. She was taken to the emergency room at Orlando Health – Health Central Hospital where the medical team performed tests to diagnose her problem. An echocardiogram revealed that one of her heart valves was worn down and not opening and closing properly to pump blood through her body.

A valve problem

Alba was referred to the Orlando Health Heart Institute where cardiologist Deepak Vivek, MD, performed further testing. Dr. Vivek determined that Alba’s aortic valve needed replacement. When the aortic valve isn't working properly, it can interfere with blood flow and force the heart to work harder to supply the necessary blood to the rest of your body. This can result in chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and fainting spells, just like Alba experienced. If untreated, the added stress on the heart can lead to heart damage, heart failure or death.

Dr. Vivek determined that because of her advanced age, Alba was a good candidate for a minimally invasive procedure to replace her valve called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). Through this procedure, a doctor makes only a small incision in the leg to thread a catheter, or small tube, through a main artery to the heart. The doctor then uses a small balloon to insert a replacement valve in place of the defective valve. The TAVR procedure is an alternative to open-heart surgery, which, for certain patients, can present risks for stroke, blood loss, irregular heartbeat and other complications.  

Alba’s TAVR procedure took about an hour to complete, and after recovering for two days in the hospital she was transferred to Health Central Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for five days of inpatient rehabilitation to gain back her strength and endurance.

Today, Alba feels like she has all the energy she needs. “I feel very, very good,” she says. “I do everything now. My daughter tries to slow me down,” she says, laughing. In fact, Alba felt so good at her three-month follow-up appointment with Dr. Vivek that she danced the salsa in his office.

Aortic valve disease and the TAVR procedure

Dr. Vivek and other doctors at the Orlando Health Heart Institute Cardiology Group have performed more than 300 TAVR procedures since 2012, a year after the procedure was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The practice currently performs approximately 80 to 100 TAVR procedures every year, most of them for patients over the age of 60.

Aortic stenosis disease is a progressive heart condition that silently grows worse over time. In some people, aortic valve disease may not cause any signs or symptoms for many years, if at all. Others may experience shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, loss of consciousness, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), heart failure and sudden cardiac death.

Aortic valve replacement can treat aortic valve disease and help restore normal blood flow, reduce symptoms, prolong life and help preserve the function of your heart muscle. The TAVR procedure is available to people who may not be good candidates for open-heart surgery due to age or other risk factors. The procedure is also an option for people who had their aortic valve replaced in the past, but need a new one because the replacement may no longer work well.

“Many people as they grow older may start feeling more fatigued and think that feeling more run down is something that just comes with aging, but that’s not the case,” explains Dr. Vivek. “If you’re feeling fatigued or short of breath, you should get checked out by your doctor to see if it could be a heart issue. If it is, it’s much better to have a procedure such as TAVR performed to correct the condition before heart failure, a heart attack or stroke occurs. And it’s never too late to feel better. One of our TAVR patients was a 98-year-old man who lived past his 100th birthday.”

To schedule an appointment with a doctor at Orlando Health Heart Institute, call (321) 841-9690.

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Alba Diaz

I feel very, very good now.

For about a year, I would get easily tired and feel faint when I stood up from sitting down. Orlando Health got me back to feeling my best again. I do everything now. My daughter tries to slow me down!

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The Heart Valve Center

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