Jeanette Dukarski - Midland, MI
"I'm glad I did it... I'm glad science has advanced so the procedure isn't so serious."
100th TAVR Patient Enjoys Getting Back to Her Active Lifestyle
Jeanette Dukarski of Midland has led a very energetic life. She's the mother of three wonderful sons, whom she raised with her husband of 55 years. In her younger days, she traveled all over the world with her first husband, an airman in the Air Force, before he passed away. After settling in Michigan with her current family, she spent 23 years working full-time at a local hospital. Even after retiring from there, she had too much energy to quit working entirely. For five more years she worked part-time at a day care center, only stopping when she had to take time to heal injuries from a car accident.
In more recent years, however, Dukarski found herself feeling much more tired than usual. Her usual go-get 'em stamina and vitality had been diminishing. Other areas of her health started to become impacted as well. "I was cold all the time," she recalls.
During a checkup, Dukarski's family doctor noticed her heart skipping beats and became concerned. To investigate the cause of her irregular heartbeats, Dukarski was referred to MidMichigan Health Interventional Cardiologist Maged Rizk, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Rizk ran multiple tests on Dukarski to fully evaluate her heart's health. He discovered Dukarski had aortic stenosis - narrowing of her aortic valve.
The aorta is the first artery that all blood flows through as it leaves the heart to travel to the rest of the body. As Dr. Rizk explained, the valve leading from the heart into the aorta should normally be about as big around as a quarter. However, in Dukarski's case, it was only about as big around as a dime. When blood has difficulty flowing out of the heart, circulation in every part of the body is affected. This can cause symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, and feeling cold.
Dr. Rizk told Dukarski that she may have had this condition for many years. "At first, the heart can make up for the narrower space by working extra hard to pump blood out," he said. "After too long of this strenuous work, the heart muscles can begin to weaken and cause further health problems."
It was clear that something needed to be done to restore Dukarski's blood flow. Dr. Rizk decided that Dukarski needed to have her aortic valve replaced. He thought she might be a good candidate for a new minimally-invasive procedure being offered by MidMichigan called transcatheter aortic valve replacement - or TAVR. During the procedure, which requires the involvement of a multi-disciplinary team of specialists, a thin catheter is inserted into an easily-accessible artery in the patient's body, such as in their neck, leg, or in between their ribs. The replacement valve travels through this blood vessel to the aorta. There, it can be inserted in place without needing to stop the heart from beating.
Dukarski agreed that this type of valve replacement was a good idea. This new endoscopic procedure comes with fewer risks than open heart surgery, which requires opening the chest cavity and temporarily stopping the beating of the heart. "I'm glad science has advanced so it's not so serious," Dukarski says. Having received lots of information and advice from her health care providers about the procedure ahead of time, Dukarski was not feeling too nervous. "I trusted my doctors completely," she says.
Dukarski had her procedure performed earlier this year in February. On the day of the surgery itself, everything went as smoothly as they could have hoped. "It was a breeze," she remembers. "I just sailed right through." The anesthesiologists gave her some sedatives, then she was brought into the operating room. "I was back out and in my room before I knew it," she said.
Within an hour after the procedure was completed, Dukarski was awake again and doctors were coming in to check on her. "They had me up and walking right away," she says. What was particularly surprising to her was how she really didn't feel any pain after the procedure.
Dukarski appreciated all of the care and concern that was shown to her by the doctors, nurses, and staff at the hospital. "They kept a close eye on me at the hospital," she says. Everybody made sure she had a good appetite and a healthy complexion as she recovered. They also made sure her heart was working as it should before she left. Less than 48 hours after the procedure, Dukarski was back at home.
There was very little pain from the procedure, and she immediately began feeling the benefits of her improved blood flow. "That first day I was home, I felt like I just wanted to get up and go," she remembers. Her normal energy was already kicking back in. Six weeks after her surgery, Dukarski returned for a follow-up appointment. She learned there that her heart was in excellent health and she was well on her way to full recovery. At that time, she began cardiac rehab to restore her cardiovascular stamina. "The staff was very nice," she says. "If I needed help with a machine they were right there."
Now, Dukarski is enjoying the new lease on life that her renewed energy is giving her. "I definitely have more energy," she says. She is able to do more now than before the surgery, from housework to going out shopping to spending time with her grandkids. Before her heart problems started, she and her husband used to fly south for the winter and visit their son in Port Charlotte, FL. Such trips had been put on hold while Dukarski wasn't feeling well, but her improved health has changed that. "I'm well enough now that we can do a little traveling," she says happily. "I think this year we'll stay a little longer!"
For now, Dukarski is very grateful for her recovered strength and energy. "I don't have a lot of years left," she says. "But I want to enjoy what I do have."
Those who have been diagnosed with moderate to severe or severe aortic stenosis are encouraged to talk with their primary care provider about treatment options. Those who would like more information about the TAVR procedure or MidMichigan's Heart Valve Clinic may visit www.midmichigan.org/heartvalveclinic.