Local woman receives new heart valves

Mary Hicks, 95, sits inside her Woodstock home. HIcks was one of two people in the region who recently had a minimally invasion surgery for heart valve disease. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Mary Hicks, a 95-year-old Woodstock resident, was one of the first to receive a minimally invasive aortic valve replacement at Valley Health’s Heart & Vascular Center’s hybrid room in Winchester Medical Center on July 6.

She said she awoke from the heart valve surgery a new person.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Hicks said.

Before her surgery, she had frequent chest pains and couldn’t walk 10 feet without shortness of breath. She would also get blue feet due to lack of blood flow reaching her feet.

Since receiving her new heart valves, she can walk around freely without difficulty breathing and doesn’t have any problems with circulation in her feet.

The hybrid room combines a cardiac catherization lab and operating room to offer trans-catheter aortic and mitral valve replacement. The minimally invasive procedures result in shorter hospital stays, less trauma and pain, smaller incisions and faster recovery times.

The regional medical center is one of only 5 to 10 percent of hospitals around the country that offer these minimally-invasive treatments to patients.

Dr. Basel Ramlawi, a cardiothoracic surgeon and chairman of Valley Health’s Heart & Vascular Center and director of the new Advanced Valve and Aortic Center at Winchester Medical Center, said the 90-minute procedure went smoothly for Hicks.

“Patients, as we get older, have heart valve problems,” he said. The four heart valves in the heart allow the blood flow to go in one direction, so if there is a leak the blood may go in the wrong direction, or if the valve isn’t opening properly there can be obstruction, he added.

“If any one of those valves fail, it puts an enormous amount of strain on the heart, and typically the best way to fix these valves has been with open heart surgery,” he said.

But for high-risk patients, such as the elderly, with kidney problems, like Hicks, he said open heart surgery isn’t the best option. Now, doctors can fix heart valves through small pencil-sized incisions.

For Hicks, Ramlawi made a small incision in her groin, and a catheter was put into the groin through the femoral artery. With X-ray guidance, he is able to deliver a catheter into the heart through the aortic valve.

“Then we are able to deploy a new valve inside of the old one that’s not working,” he said, as the heart continues to beat. The new valve works in less than a minute, he added.

Hicks’ recovery time lasted only two days, Ramlawi said. “It was very very good because there’s no incisions, there’s no healing much to be done.”

“Overall she was able to walk and eat and joke around that same evening. I remember after the surgery I went off to do another procedure and came back, and she was already planning her weekend with her daughters, just a couple hours after the surgery at 95 years old,” he said.

These procedures offer “less pain, quicker recovery and the same excellent results,” he added. Hicks has no post-recovery restrictions at home.

In traditional open heart surgery, recovery time requires five to seven days in the hospital, with additional weeks of weight restrictions.

Hicks was admitted to the hospital on a Tuesday, had the surgery on Wednesday and left the hospital on Saturday.

When deciding on which procedure to commit to, her daughters Deborah Hughes and Sandra Farmer said they weighed the available options very carefully as open heart surgery wasn’t feasible for her mother with her kidney problems. But after speaking with the doctors and researching their backgrounds and experience, they were confident in their choice.

“What years we have we want to be quality years,” Hughes said. “Quality of life.”

Hicks also felt comfortable with her doctors, who included Ramlawi, as well as the experience.

“I thought he was wonderful,” she said.

But the final decision to continue with the procedure was up to Hicks, her daughters said. If there was a possibility of getting better she needed to do it. The hardest part was convincing Hicks that she needed the surgery. Their mother kept her health in great condition, but Hughes said even the elderly and those in good health should not ignore suspect symptoms.

“There are things that can be done,” Hughes said.

Hicks said the reason she was in good health was because she never drank or smoked. She also had eight kids and 12 foster children throughout the years who kept her active and in shape.

After considering the procedure and speaking with the doctors, Hicks agreed to have the surgery.

Farmer said that after the surgery they expected to see confusion and infections, which is possible after surgeries.

“We hoped that everything was going to go as expected,” she said. “This is the path we are taking and we are willing to accept complications and we’ll deal with those as they come along.”

But these complications never surfaced for Hicks.

Hughes aid the difference in Hicks from before the surgery to after has been “tremendous.”

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com