Christina Mae Bowles enjoys living independently. The Culpeper, Virginia resident, who is in her eighties, drives herself to the grocery store, does her daily household chores and attends church regularly.
Not too long ago, Mrs. Bowles found herself unable to follow her normal routine. More and more frequently, shortness of breath curtailed her activities. “I couldn’t even talk on the phone because I was so short of breath,” she recalls.
Mrs. Bowles was becoming increasingly debilitated due to a leaky heart valve, or mitral regurgitation, a serious condition affecting an estimated four million Americans. Each beat of her heart, sent blood leaking backward through Mrs. Bowles’ mitral valve. Her heart had to work harder and harder to keep blood circulating through her body.
Unfortunately, no medications specifically treat or cure this condition. The typical way to repair a leaking mitral valve is open-heart surgery, a rigorous procedure that Mrs. Bowles’ personal physician feared she had become too weak to face.
“I told my doctor that I had to do something,” Mrs. Bowles says. Fortunately, her physician knew that the University of Virginia Health System was about to begin testing a new, minimally invasive procedure that could help.
“Mrs. Bowles is the first person in Virginia to undergo this procedure, and she came through beautifully,” explains Dr. Scott Lim, an interventional cardiologist in UVa’s Heart Valve Center. Mrs. Bowels’ surgery was part of a national clinical trial, called Everest II. Dr. Lim serves as the study’s principal investigator at UVa.
During the procedure, cardiologists made a small incision on Mrs. Bowles’ leg. Through this opening, they threaded a flexible tube called a catheter up to her heart and then placed a tiny clip on her leaking valve.
“Mrs. Bowles was awake and talking shortly after the procedure,” Dr. Lim reports. “She stayed in the hospital for two days and was up and walking. She kept telling us how much she wanted to go to church again.” According to Dr. Lim, “it was both exciting and gratifying to help someone like Ms. Bowles and to see her recover so quickly.”
As for Mrs. Bowles, she says, “I’m pleased and feel very good. My breathing is a whole lot better, and I don’t have to call my daughter every five minutes for help. I’m up and moving again,” she says.
“This trial is at the forefront to a whole new way of healing people with heart disease,” Dr. Lim notes. “Since this approach is a lot less invasive than open heart surgery, we expect patients to heal dramatically faster.” The mitral valve clip, which is inserted under general anesthesia, may also prove less risky than open-heart surgery, which requires the use of a heart-lung machine and stopping the heart in order to repair the valve.
Use of the mitral valve clip is being tested at 30 medical centers throughout the country. UVa is the only hospital in Virginia participating in the clinical trial, which is comparing how mitral valve clip recipients fare versus patients who undergo standard open-heart surgery to repair or replace their leaking valve.
Dr. Lim anticipates that the clinical trial will run for at least a year and enroll over 400 patients nationwide. Physicians will track study participants for several years before final results are reported in late 2009 or early 2010. “If the trial proves successful, we’re intending that UVa’s Heart Valve Center will continue performing these less-invasive procedures. We envision being one of the nation’s centers of excellence for treating heart valve disease,” he says.
Currently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of top 50 heart and vascular facilities in the nation, UVa this year is celebrating the 50 th anniversary of its first cardiac surgery. More information about the Percutaneous Mitral Valve Repair Trial at UVa can be obtained by contacting study coordinator Linda Bailes at 434-982-1058 or by emailing lgs2M@virginia.edu .