During his tenure with the San Diego Chargers, Big Ed White was known as a player with heart. And so it was fitting earlier this month that White became one of the first people in San Diego County to benefit from a new, revolutionary heart procedure.
Performed by cardiologists at La Jolla’s Scripps Memorial Hospital, the minimally invasive procedure –– transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR –– is a promising alternative to open-heart surgery. Although TAVR was designed for patients too ill or frail to undergo open-heart surgery, the Food and Drug Administration last month approved the procedure for low-risk patients like the 72-year-old White, who lives in Julian.
“At my age, quality of life is really important,” White said. “I didn’t want to take on the added risks that come with surgery tied to full sedation and a much longer recovery timeline.”
Dr. Paul Teirstein, the Scripps Clinic chief of cardiology, performed the TAVR procedure on White. He began by threading a collapsible heart valve through a small incision in White’s leg and into an artery leading to his heart. Next he expanded the TAVR device, which enabled it to take over the function of the valve and facilitate the efficient flow of blood out of the heart.
“This procedure has revolutionized heart valve surgery by giving patients like Ed a much less complicated option for treatment that doesn’t involve the prolonged recovery of open-chest surgery,” said Dr. Teirstein. It’s the same procedure, incidentally, that Mick Jagger underwent earlier this year.
Scripps was previously involved in clinical trials that sought to determine whether TAVR was safe and effective for use in low-risk patients. Results from those studies, which were released in March, were extremely promising. TAVR patients had significantly fewer strokes, reduced chance of mortality, and much faster recovery time than patients whose aortic valves were replaced during open-heart surgery.
“At Scripps, we have been doing the TAVR procedure on high-risk surgery patients since 2011,” said Dr. Teirstein, “and we’ve seen over and over how this technique, requiring only one night in the hospital, extends and improves patients’ lives.”
In the near future, the expectation is that the procedure will be offered to almost all patients with aortic stenosis. Dr. Teirstein predicted that most of the 70,000 aortic valve replacements done annually in the United States will use the TAVR procedure.
Ed White was traded to San Diego in 1978 and played the final eight years of his career with the Chargers, becoming a Pro Bowl blocker for the formidable “Air Coryell” offense. White retired after the 1985 season and was later elected to the franchise Hall of Fame.
Scripps treats more than 750,000 patients annually throughout the region. Learn more at scripps.org.