First in Nebraska: Valve Replacement Without Open Heart Surgery

Open heart surgery or small incision? CHI Health cardiologists lead the way in innovative valve replacement.

“This is something that none of us would have imagined we’d be doing two decades ago,” said Anuradha Tunuguntla, MBBS, known as “Dr. Anu.” For four years, she’s worked as an interventional and structural cardiologist with CHI Health and has helped transform the care of patients with a common heart valve disease called aortic valve stenosis.

“Aortic valve stenosis is a condition where the main outflow valve of the heart gets calcified and thickened to the point where the valve doesn’t open well and the heart isn’t able to pump blood effectively to the rest of the body,” Dr. Anu said. The onset of symptoms leads to very poor prognosis and up to 50 percent of patients experiencing symptoms will die if the disease is left untreated. Symptoms to look for include shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting and fatigue.

Treatment requires a valve replacement, which historically required open heart surgery. But in 2011, CHI Health became one of the first health systems in the country and the very first in Nebraska to offer aortic valve replacement via catheter – called transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR. In most cases, a new valve is inserted through a small incision in the groin and guided through your blood vessels to your heart and into your aortic valve.

“We position the new valve inside the old valve. Once it’s released, it starts functioning immediately,” Dr. Anu said. The patient is under conscious sedation (twilight sleep) for the minimally invasive procedure. Most patients go home within a day and experience a faster recovery, less bleeding, reduced stroke rates and fewer hospital readmissions.

“It truly is remarkable in terms of being able to replace a valve just from a small incision in the groin and then to be discharged the next day – and have outcomes similar or in certain respects better than open heart valve replacement,” Dr. Anu said.

Together, CHI Health Nebraska Heart and CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy have completed more than 700 of these life-saving procedures – more than any other health system in the state.

Anuradha Tunuguntla, MBBS