TAVR added years to my heart and my life

Myron Kinzler wasn’t about to get too worked up about his health. A retired farmer, the Williamsburg man says he thought running out of breath while walking across a field was just a sign of aging.

“It didn’t worry me a lot, I’m 83 years old, it happens,” he says. “I just figured I was getting old.”

A typical day, Myron says, involves playing cards every morning and going to the coffee shop every afternoon. He didn’t do much walking, so he wasn’t surprised when he ran out of breath.

When he went to the VA Hospital for his bi-annual checkup in September 2017, however, doctors discovered his symptoms were more than just a sign of age.

“I go to the veteran’s hospital two times a year for blood tests and to get checked out, and this time they caught a problem with my heart,” Myron says. He says doctors wanted to admit him to the hospital but he refused – his dog was in his truck waiting for him, and he needed to take her home.

When he returned the next day, he learned he had aortic stenosis, a condition caused by a buildup of calcium on the aortic valve that that causes valve flaps to become stiff and unable to open fully. When that happens, the heart has to work harder to pump blood, it delivers less oxygen-rich blood to the body and fluid builds up in the lungs.  

Myron was given two choices: He could travel to another VA hospital in Minnesota for an open-heart surgery to replace the aortic valve, or he could be admitted to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and have a transcatheter aortic valve replacement – or TAVR. With the TAVR procedure, a new valve is inserted by guiding it to the heart from an artery in the leg rather than opening the chest.

“I told them I was too old to be opened up,” Myron says. “The doctors said I had maybe three to five years left if I didn’t do anything, and (the TAVR) could add years to that.”

“I had no question about it – they were either going to do this, or we wouldn’t do anything,” he says.

Patients referred to the UI Heart and Vascular Center for TAVR are evaluated by a structural heart team comprised of cardiologists and heart surgeons. The team has performed over 500 TAVR procedures. Myron’s TAVR procedure was performed by James Rossen, MD, and Jay Bhama, MD, in November 2017.  A month after the procedure, he says, he had much more energy.

“The great thing about TAVR is that patients who are high risk for surgical valve replacement and given no options for treatment now have an option,” says Alyssa Speight, RN, BSN, a structural heart nurse coordinator in the UI Heart and Vascular Center. “TAVR also shortens the recovery time and allows a patient to get back to everyday activities. It is a great quality of life procedure.”

Myron says he feels better.

“They always asked me how far I could walk, and I’d tell them I’d walk as far as I had to,” he says. “Now I think I can walk a little bit more.”