John Schweisthal of Batavia now has a healthy heart, and he can thank his bum hip for it.
While recently undergoing tests in the lead-up to a scheduled hip replacement, the 75-year-old was told by his doctors that he had a potentially life-threatening condition called severe aortic valve stenosis. Schweisthal’s initial response was that he didn’t want to hear anything about a heart procedure.
“I thought it was a bad dream,” he said. “I was afraid to have it done and afraid to not have it done.”
The fear of the procedure kept him up nights, Schweisthal said. With the holidays nearing, he couldn’t help drawing comparisons in his mind to the dinner table.
“I thought they were going to carve me up like a Christmas goose,” he said.
A week later on Nov. 16, Schweisthal underwent a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin.
And a day after that, he was home and feeling fine.
“I was amazed how there is no pain,” Schweisthal said. “It’s just crazy, the modern miracle of medical science.”
Schweisthal’s TAVR procedure was the 100th performed at Sherman, about two years after the hospital did its first one.
TAVR is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat valve and structural heart conditions, including aortic stenosis, without open heart surgery. Aortic stenosis occurs when a patient’s heart valve becomes narrow or stiff due to calcium buildup and blood can’t flow freely. The condition makes it difficult for a person to breathe and can become life-threatening.
“It’s been a very good option that started off only for the sickest of sickest,” said Dr. William Polito, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon who performed the procedure with interventional cardiologist Dr. Richard Park. “But now we’ve found that the quality and results are such that it’s approved for what we would consider the lower-risk surgical patient.”
For Schweisthal’s transcatheter aortic valve replacement, Polito and Park made two small incisions near his groin and, using a catheter, positioned a replacement valve over the old, damaged aortic valve. The new valve then expanded to full size and immediately took over the work of the damaged valve, regulating blood flow on its own.
The procedure took the pair about an hour.
Park said that if Schweisthal hadn’t had the procedure, he would have suffered from worsening shortness of breath and ultimately heart failure. And while he says Schweisthal could have handled open heart surgery, it would have come with a longer recovery and more risk.
“Patients have a lot of options they didn’t have before,” Park said. “With a TAVR valve, he’s up and walking right away, he’s home the next day, and he’s going to recover much better from the hip surgery.”
Schweisthal hopes to have that hip surgery soon. But before that was a scheduled trip to Appleton, Wisconsin, to see his daughter, son and four grandchildren for Thanksgiving.
“During this whole thing, I really became aware that tomorrow’s not guaranteed,” Schweisthal said. “Now I feel like a million bucks, and I can be with my family for the holidays. It’s so great to think about it.”