CARBONDALE — Regina Einig of Makanda knew she needed back surgery. As someone who has experienced numerous surgeries during her lifetime, Einig also knew her doctor would run routine tests before surgery to make sure she was a good candidate and could withstand the stress.
There was one thing neither Einig or her doctor knew: Einig had aortic stenosis.
“I was getting ready to have back surgery and they called me and said I had to have heart surgery first,” Einig said.
When she asked what was wrong, she was told she had severe aortic stenosis, which is a narrowing of the aortic valve opening that restricts blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta and may affect the pressure in the left atrium. Some people, like Einig, have the disease but do not have any symptoms.
“I knew what stenosis was and what my aorta was, so I was pretty scared,” Einig said.
That led Einig to Prairie Heart Institute SIH. She was given two options: open heart surgery or TAVR (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement).
In traditional open heart valve replacement, patients have a long recovery. The TAVR procedure takes the replacement valves through the femoral artery in the groin to the heart and pushes the new valve into the old one, similar to placing a stent in a blocked artery. To be eligible for TAVR, two doctors have to agree that a patient is a candidate.
“I assumed if I was going to have the TAVR I would have to go someplace else for it,” Einig said.
She asked if she would have to go to St. Louis or Springfield, and Dr. John Watson told her they do the procedure at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale. In fact, they had just started doing TAVR a couple weeks before her appointment.
“I’m a musician and we say timing is everything,” Einig said, adding that the procedure was so easy.
Her surgery was on Thursday, Feb. 22. She went home on Saturday, went to church on Sunday and taught piano on Monday.
“That’s what you call pretty good recovery time. I was really happy with that,” Einig said. “It blows me away that there is enough similarity between a pig and me that you can put a pig valve in me and it will work.”
Kristen Doster, executive vice president of Prairie Cardiovascular, said patients diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis who do not get treatment typically do not live more than two years.
“That’s the tragic and scary thing with aortic stenosis. When we think of this patient and her husband with their team behind them, imagine if we hadn’t found it. If you hadn’t had that echo, where you would be in very short order? I think that’s the miracle we are seeing today,” Doster said.
“I didn’t know that. That scares the hell out of me,” Einig replied.
Steve Albright, SIH system director of cardiovascular services, said the U.S. has 5,200 hospitals, but only 550 have TAVR programs.
“That puts Memorial Hospital of Carbondale in the top 10 percent in terms of cardiac complexity,” Albright said. “TAVR truly gives these patients their lives back.”
The hospital has done 26 TAVR procedures since the program began in January. The average age of the patient is 80. The hospital had to perform 54 surgical aortic valve replacements to qualify to do TAVR.
Doster called TAVR an easy program to support. Springfield started a TAVR program in 2012. The doctors in Carbondale qualified for TAVR by participating in procedures in Springfield.
“This is probably one of the most mature and experienced ‘new’ teams in the country,” Doster said.
The TAVR program at MHC is the fifth program south of Interstate-80 in Illinois.
“I think we are setting the foundation us to continue to move forward to be able to offer a higher complexity of valve replacement as more valve replacement moves toward non-surgical,” Dr. Russell McElveen, cardiothoracic surgeon, said.
Dr. Watson said the procedure has a great impact on quality of life and mortality.
“TAVR has been one of the most impactful innovations over the last decade in cardiovascular surgery. It allows us to treat aortic sent in a pat pop that otherwise would not be treated,” Dr. John Waton said.
Dr Magdalena Zeglin said it really does take a village to get these things done.
Zeglin said more and more of her patients are telling her they would rather die than seek treatment away from home. Dr. Gangadhar Malasana agreed.
“I would like to sum it up. TAVR is the best example of the complex cardiovascular care delivered by a really multidisciplinary team of individuals,” Malasana said. “You can have it right here. You don’t have to travel.”
For more information on the Prairie Heart Institute structural heart program, call 618-529-4455.