Northville Woman’s Life Saved Through New Valve Replacement Procedure
Barbara O’Brien's brother-in-law recommended her for the new procedure at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.
— Submitted by Beaumont Health System
Just over a year ago, Barbara O’Brien, 83, of Northville, was convinced she would not live to celebrate another Christmas with her family. She’d been hospitalized seven times with congestive heart failure.
“I knew things were terribly serious the seventh time,” she remembers. “When a hospital staff member suggested hospice care, I decided it was time.”
Barbara was then presented with a special blanket provided to hospice patients by hospital staff.
But her daughter, Julie Mantay, did not agree. Wanting to find out if there were any other treatment options available for her mom, Mantay contacted Dr. Steven Timmis, her mother’s Beaumont cardiologist, and Dr. Gerald Timmis, Beaumont’s emeritus director of cardiovascular research, who happened to be her uncle and Barbara’s brother-in-law.
After visiting Barbara in the hospital, Timmis concluded that she could be a candidate for a new procedure soon to be offered through a research study at Beaumont. Called Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, the procedure allows physicians to replace a high-risk patient’s heart valve through a catheter without open-heart surgery.
Barbara agreed to be evaluated for the new procedure. She was discharged from the hospital she was at and was later brought by ambulance to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. Beaumont doctors performed a valvuloplasty procedure to stretch her valve, to provide some temporary relief for her and as a bridge to keep her alive until the research study received regulatory approval.
On September 23, 2011, Barbara was the second patient treated with TAVR as part of the study.
Dr. George Hanzel director of Beaumont of Royal Oak’s cardiac catheterization laboratory, and Dr. Frank Shannon, cardiovascular surgeon, performed the TAVR procedure. They inserted a tiny tube called a catheter into the femoral artery in her groin and threaded it into her heart. A collapsible heart valve, crimped down to about the diameter of a pencil, was inserted in the catheter and was expanded into place in her heart with a balloon.
In an earlier research study in 2005, Beaumont was the first hospital in North America to replace an aortic valve through a TAVR procedure. Hanzel was involved in that groundbreaking procedure.
“The procedure is so easy, it’s unbelievable,” says Barbara. “There’s no invasion of the body; no cutting; they go in through the groin.”
“Barbara was not a good surgical candidate because she has a neuromuscular dysfunction that put her at high risk for surgery,” said Hanzel.
This made her a great candidate for TAVR. Barbara reports having “immediate relief” from her pain after the procedure.
“My pain was terrible before, especially after breakfast when I was bent over with pain and dreadfully ill. I couldn’t even walk before … even a couple of steps," she said.
Before the procedure, Barbara was on oxygen continuously. Now, she no longer needs it. Her pain was so severe she required morphine, but she has not needed morphine since her valve replacement.
After not being able to travel for years, Barbara travelled on a plane by herself to visit her son’s family in Edina, Minnesota for Thanksgiving.
“She’s doing great,” said Hanzel. “Prior to the procedure, she had been sleeping in a chair for years. Now she can sleep in a bed and her shortness of breath and chest pain are relieved.”
“I am fortunate that my brother-in-law knew about this procedure,” said Barbara. “I really appreciate my wonderful physicians Drs. Hanzel and Shannon. I am grateful that this possibility exists and urge anyone who has congestive heart failure to consider it.”
As the 2012 holiday season approaches, Barbara continues to live independently with some help. She is once again active in the Northville Garden Club selling holiday greens to raise money for scholarships for Northville High School and Schoolcraft College students and for civic improvements in the Northville community. She’s been the club’s top seller of holiday greens for two years in a row.
The Hospice blanket is a constant reminder of what could have been, if not for four Beaumont doctors.