Sidestepping a Third Open-Heart Surgery
“For the most part, I live the life of an average 24-year-old graduate student,” says Brandon Conroy.
But like others born with congenital heart defects, he’s also in the hospital a lot.
He has been through two open-heart surgeries:
- The first at age 5 to fix a series of heart defects and to place a pulmonary valve conduit (a tube containing an artificial valve)
- The second at age 7 to give him a new, adult-sized conduit
Later, there was a catheterization to place a stent, then another “just to look around.” There were routine echocardiograms, stress tests and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. As his teen years came and went, Conroy knew a third open-heart surgery was inevitable since he had outgrown the second conduit.
But then last November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved something called Melody transcatheter pulmonary valve therapy.
That’s when Conroy got the memorable phone call from UVA cardiologist Scott Lim, MD. The new valve would delay, maybe for many years, Conroy’s need for more open-heart surgery.
How the Melody Valve Procedure Works
Out of personal and scientific curiosity, Conroy chose to stay awake during his procedure.
“It’s a little surreal. As they blow up the balloon in your heart, you feel some pressure,” he says.
But it was all done through a catheter, and there was no pain. No opening of the chest, no scar, no lengthy recovery period that would have come from open-heart surgery. And for Conroy, that was huge.
Instead of open-heart surgery, inserting the Melody valve typically involves only a one- to two-hour procedure, an overnight hospital stay and a short week of rest and recuperation.
Options for Heart Patients
As Lim explains: “Melody is one example of a way this field is rapidly progressing. People with heart-valve disease are able to access therapies that are far less invasive and are able to recover far more quickly. It’s a significant difference in terms of their comfort level and the amount of time they have to take off in terms of work or school and being in the hospital.”
Conroy is quick to agree. “People with congenital heart disease now have options that 20 or 30 years ago just weren’t on the table,” he stresses. “By the time my new valve wears out eight to 12 years from now, there could be another procedure that might be even better. There is always new science and new possibilities.”
Hybrid OR Not Typical
For most of us, “hybrid” means the latest advance in automobiles. But the term has also come to the operating room. UVA now has a hybrid operating room that combines advanced imaging technology with a standard cardiac OR.
It’s also the perfect setting for giving a patient like Brandon Conroy a new heart valve. Learn more about the hybrid OR from this previous blog post.