Ron Leigeb - Midland, MI
"For me, there was no downside to this surgery."
A Special Heart Procedure for a Special Patient
For most people, a valve replacement means open heart surgery. For Ron Leigeb of Midland, however, traditional open heart surgery wasn't an option.
Leigeb was a special case. He had undergone radiation therapy in the 1990s while being treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma. When he had open heart surgery in 2007, his surgeon noticed some damage to the bones in his chest caused by the radiation. When Leigeb consulted with the specialists at the Heart Valve Clinic at MidMichigan Medical Center - Midland, they told him they were concerned about the safety of doing traditional valve replacement surgery.
"For safety's sake, they decided they did not want to risk another open heart procedure," Leigeb said. "The doctors told me the surgeon had done a great job putting me together before, but they did not want to take a chance on me."
Fortunately, a new, less invasive procedure known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is now available for patients who may not be able to tolerate traditional open heart surgery. It involves using a catheter to insert 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 multidisciplinary team of specialists representing the areas of interventional cardiology, advanced cardiac imaging and cardiothoracic surgery.
On September 6, 2016, Interventional Cardiologist/Structural Heart Disease Specialist Nestor Mercardo, M.D., Ph.D., and Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeon Robert Jones, M.D., were part of the surgical team that repaired Leigeb's heart.
"Every morning while I was in the hospital, Dr. Mercado and Dr. Jones came in together to see me," Leigeb said. "They checked the incision and my heartbeat, and talked with me. I was impressed with that personal follow-up."
Leigeb was also impressed at how quickly he recovered from the procedure. At 69 years old, he was 10 years older than when he had the traditional open heart surgery, yet his recovery was much quicker. "There is no comparison," he said. "When I had open heart, there were a lot of restrictions. Back then, I had difficulty just getting out of bed or closing a car door," he said.
After the TAVR surgery, he had some soreness and bleeding, but those were quickly controlled and there were few restrictions. "I could get in and out of bed, I could shower – I could do what I was doing before the surgery," he said.
In fact, a couple of weeks later when Leigeb needed to run into town from his north Midland home, he took advantage of the mild, late summer weather and hopped on his motorcycle. "When I had open heart, it was quite a while before I could get back on the bike," he said.
Leigeb completed a course of cardiac rehabilitation a few weeks after the surgery and has stayed active. "I went back to my old life – with caution, of course," he said. "I took my time and I feel good. I bike or skate three days a week and I use light weights or do yoga on the other days."
"For me, there was no downside to this surgery," he said. "My valve was not sealing; it was leaking very badly and I needed a new one. I considered it a plus that I didn't have to have my chest opened up to get it repaired. TAVR is a lot easier on a person."
Throughout the entire process, Leigeb said he was impressed with the excellent staff at the Heart Valve Clinic. "Dr. Mercado is really nice, and he explained everything very thoroughly," he said. "I felt very confident with him, with Dr. Jones, and with the entire staff. I think I was only the eighth patient to have TAVR in Midland, but I was confident that things would go well. And they did."
MidMichigan Health offers a full array of heart and vascular services, including open heart surgery, vascular surgery, electrophysiology for heart rhythm problems and advanced interventional procedures. For additional information on MidMichigan's comprehensive cardiovascular team, visit www.midmichigan.org/heart.