Lexington's Central Baptist offers new heart-valve replacement procedure

Wilgen "Ace" Hale
Wilgen "Ace" Hale Photo provided

A surgical technique new to Lexington is offering a life-changing alternative for patients who were too frail for traditional valve replacement surgery.

Central Baptist Hospital began performing transcatheter aortic valve replacements during the summer. It is used to treat patients with aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the heart valve caused by calcium deposits. It allows for replacement of the damaged valve via a femoral artery, as opposed to opening the chest for surgery.

"That's what makes it a game- changer," said Dr. Paula Hollingsworth, an interventional cardiologist.

As the U.S. population ages, an increasing number of patients will develop aortic stenosis. Symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath and light-headedness.

"It's sort of insidious because it happens over time," Hollingsworth said.

In transcatheter aortic valve replacement, a collapsible artificial valve is deployed through a catheter.

Many patients do not have an option for treatment of aortic stenosis because they have other health issues that place them at high risk for conventional open-heart surgery. Hollingsworth said the procedure has similar complications to a heart catheterization.

Dr. Mo Imam, a cardiothoracic surgeon, said the difference between patients before and after the operation is dramatic. Many are able to participate in hobbies or family activities that have been too strenuous for them for years.

"It does not just add years to life," he said, "it adds life to your years."

Wilgen "Ace" Hale, 83, of Science Hill was one of the first to get the procedure. He waited for about six months as the final preparations were put in place at Central Baptist.

His health, he said, was on the decline.

"I was getting to where I didn't have no breath," he said. "I couldn't do nothing."

He had been told he probably wouldn't survive traditional surgery.

"They said there wasn't any hope for me," he said.

Since the surgery Aug. 30, he said, "I feel like I'm about a 50-year-old. I feel like I am going strong. Every day, it feels like I get better."

At his age, he said, even getting out to mow the grass feels like a treat.

Geraldine Combs, 86, of Beattyville also was among the first patients to undergo the procedure.

She had been feeling some tightness in her chest. After her family doctor did some tests, Combs was referred to Hollingsworth, who explained the procedure, even drawing a diagram of her heart.

After a recent checkup, Combs is back to doing her normal housework and getting ready to start an exercise program.

Members of Central Baptist's staff worked for several years to add the surgery and then to train a team.

"We have a team and an experienced team," said Dr. Tony Rogers, a cardiothoracic surgeon.

Now the procedure is helping to treat patients who might not have had other options because of other health issues.

"It opened a new door to people who didn't have a door to go through," Rogers said.