Medical Technology Helps 90-Year-Old Dancer Stay Active

When Gloria Moss of Sarasota, Fla. went for her annual cardiologist visit in June 2013, she was told that one of her heart valves had narrowed to a point where it was interfering with healthy blood flow. To her surprise, that day, Gloria was diagnosed with aortic stenosis, a very serious heart condition.

Aortic stenosis, or AS for short, is a narrowing or obstruction of the heart’s aortic valve that is most often due to the accumulation of calcium deposits on the valve’s leaflets – the flaps of tissue that open and close to regulate blood flow. As a result of AS, the valve does not open and close properly, forcing the heart muscle to work harder. Eventually the muscle weakens, increasing a patient’s risk of heart failure.

Of the 5 million Americans diagnosed annually with heart disease, 1.6 million have moderate to severe AS. A smaller portion, approximately 260,000, are diagnosed with severe, symptomatic aortic stenosis, which often leads to debilitating symptoms that can restrict normal day-to-day activities, such as walking short distances or climbing stairs. In many cases, AS is undertreated because symptoms such as chest pain and breathlessness are absent.

Prior to Gloria’s diagnosis, the former competitive ballroom dancer was not experiencing symptoms and had been dancing three times a week. In fact, she had recently flown to California to watch the reality television show “Dancing with the Stars.” The news of the seriousness of her condition, and need for treatment, was quite unexpected.

Gloria was equally taken aback when her cardiologist initially told her that the only treatment option would be open-heart surgery. However, Gloria discovered through additional research that, due to advances in medical technology, an alternative option is available. Known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), the procedure was first approved by FDA in November 2011 to replace a diseased heart valve without the need for open heart surgery. The minimally invasive procedure enables shorter recovery times than traditional open-heart surgery. It is indicated for severe, symptomatic AS in high-risk or inoperable patients, as determined by a heart team.

The TAVR approach is designed to deliver a collapsible replacement tissue valve through a narrow tube, or catheter. The catheter itself can be inserted through multiple access routes, such as a vessel in the leg or between a patient’s ribs. Once the catheter and new valve are in position inside the heart, the valve can expand, pushing the native diseased valve tissue out of the way and allowing the new valve to take over the job of regulating blood flow. The delivery catheter is then removed at the completion of the procedure.

“No way they were cracking my ribs open,” Gloria said. “My late husband had open-heart surgery and the recovery was tough. I didn’t want to go through that at 89 years old, so I looked into other options and learned about the transcatheter procedure at Sarasota Memorial hospital.

“The procedure was truly incredible. I stayed just one night in the hospital, experienced no pain afterwards, and little discomfort. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was back to my old self,” she said.  “Not that I want to get another surgery, but if I did, I would do this procedure over again.”

Gloria was up and moving quicker than most, something she attributes to her active lifestyle. But even she was surprised how rapid the recovery was. Although Gloria recently hung up her dancing shoes, she continues to stay active and walk her Brittany spaniel three times a day.

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