When Open Heart Surgery Was Not an Option, TAVR was Available
After a TAVR procedure during which he had complete trust in his health care team, Donald Schwim is optimistic that he will be able to keep his heart healthy.
Donald Schweim had his first open heart surgery in 2009, at the age of 56. “I had a leaking aortic valve for years – 15 or more years,” he said. “I went for an echocardiogram every year and for a stress test every two years. I failed the last test.”
In fact, when he stepped off the treadmill he was disoriented, dizzy and couldn’t walk. “That was on Aug. 29,” he said. “I had a heart cath done on Aug. 30, and open heart surgery on Sept. 1.” Surgeons repaired four blockages and the faulty valve.
While that initial surgery served him well for many years, Schweim eventually began having symptoms of heart failure. Scar tissue was inhibiting the valve from opening and closing completely. As the valve failed, his heart struggled to keep up and he struggled to breathe.
Schweim was referred to MidMichigan Health’s Heart Valve Clinic. The Clinic was developed in collaboration with the University of Michigan Health System and is based on best practices for treating patients with heart valve disease. The program is specifically designed to evaluate patients for advanced heart valve treatment.
Schweim closely followed the advice and instructions from the Heart Valve Clinic team and did what he could to maintain his health. When he learned his enlarged heart meant he had to dramatically change his diet, he scoured the pantry and tossed anything with sodium. “Salt would only make my condition worse, so I learned to cook without it,” he said.
An avid gardener before his health declined, Schweim learned to use herbs and spices instead. “I believed it was my job to follow their rules so I listened and did what they suggested,” he said.
His best efforts could only do so much. Eventually, Schweim would need a second open heart surgery to repair the failing valve. His health continued to deteriorate and reached a critical point in March 2017, when he was hospitalized for pneumonia. Along with serious breathing issues, Schweim, a diabetic, suffered a gastrointestinal bleeding issue and failing kidneys.
By July, after an emergency admittance for breathing issues, Schweim learned he was a candidate for a newer, less invasive procedure known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) that is available for patients like him who may not be able to tolerate a second open heart surgery. TAVR involves inserting an artificial aortic valve through an artery in the neck, leg or between the ribs, and placing it inside the patient’s diseased heart valve while the heart is still beating.
Because the procedure is minimally invasive, patients usually heal more quickly. On the other hand, TAVR is not appropriate for every patient. It is a more complex surgery, carries its own set of risks and requires the involvement of a multi-disciplinary team of specialists representing the areas of interventional cardiology, advanced cardiac imaging and cardiovascular surgery.
“When Annette from the Clinic told me I qualified for TAVR, there was finally light at the end of the tunnel,” Schweim said.
His physician, Interventional Cardiologist Andrzej Boguszewski, M.D., repaired the valve on July 11. “The first thing I remember is being able to breathe again,” he said. “I could even see better. Before the procedure, walking to the mailbox was a challenge.”
Schweim spent two nights at MidMichigan Medical Center – Midland. He said his recovery at home was very good thanks to the help of visiting nurses who came to his home and monitored his progress. “I started cardiac rehab in August and I do a lot of walking,” he said.
He encourages others to take an active role in their health and comply with the experts’ advice. “I do what they tell me to do and follow their directions,” he said. “I’ve learned to not worry about tomorrow but concentrate on what I can do today and what I can learn from today.”
Schweim is optimistic that he will continue to do well and added he has complete trust in his health care team. “The doctors, the nurses and staff at the Heart Valve Clinic are great,” he said. “They saved my life.”
MidMichigan Health offers a full array of heart and vascular services, including open heart surgery, advanced vascular surgery, electrophysiology for heart rhythm problems and advanced interventional procedures. Those who would like additional information on MidMichigan's comprehensive cardiovascular team may visit www.midmichigan.org/heart.