Doris Snyder celebrated her 102nd birthday on August 10, which is just weeks shy of the expected birth of her first great-granddaughter who’s due to arrive early September. The milestones may not have been possible were it not for a cutting-edge, experimental procedure that replaced one of Doris’ heart valves weeks earlier when she was 101. The valve had been rendered useless by aortic valve stenosis—hardening from calcium deposits that restrict the flow of blood from the heart.
“This could be a major breakthrough for these patients as they are typically told that nothing can be done for them,” said Patrick M. McCarthy, MD, chief of the Division of Cardiac Surgery for Northwestern Memorial Hospital and director of the hospital’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute and the Heller-Sacks Professor of Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
McCarthy is a co-principal investigator for the clinical trial that provided Doris’ new heart valve, which is formally referred to as the Placement of AoRtic TraNscathetER Valve, or PARTNER. The Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is among the trial’s pioneering sites. The technique is being evaluated as a course of therapy for patients who are considered too weak to undergo conventional open-heart surgery—primarily the elderly. It uses expandable-stenting technology to insert a prosthetic valve while the heart continues beating, eliminating the need for cardiopulmonary bypass and its associated risks.
“Patients who are too weak to be surgically treated have very limited options for valve replacement,” said Charles J. Davidson, MD, who is also a co-principal investigator for the trial and a professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Davidson says the procedure builds upon the balloon aortic valvuloplasty, but is a “more durable treatment.”
Spry and amazingly keen, Doris had never encountered any major health issues. Moreover, the avid reader who’s kept a diary for more than 60 years is usually game to tackle most things that come her way. But open heart surgery was not one of them. S. Chris Malaisrie, MD, a Northwestern Memorial cardiac surgeon and member of the site team evaluating this new procedure, said she wouldn’t survive it.
“Doris exemplifies how your state of health is not necessarily defined by your age,” said Malaisrie. “To know her is to witness a life enjoyed to the fullest.”
Doris says she certainly didn’t expect to still be here at 101. But she didn’t hesitate to take steps to increase her prospects for more time. “I got my first great granddaughter coming in a month or so; I figured I better get the procedure done if I wanted to be around here for that.”