One night as a guest at a dinner held at Adventist Health Glendale, Charles Wood said a doctor passed around a small replacement heart valve.
The father of his wife, Peggy, had been a doctor at the hospital, and she knows some of the staff members.
“I thought, ‘I’m never going to need anything like that,” recalled Wood, a longtime La Cañada resident.
Several months later, Wood, now 90, found out that he actually would.
Shortly after that dinner, Wood began suffering from shortness of breath. He placed chairs all over his property so he always had a place to sit down. Fetching the mail became strenuous.
Visits to the doctor revealed that the aortic valve in his heart was not opening wide enough to let sufficient blood flow through — a condition known as aortic stenosis. Shortness of breath and periodic blackouts are tell-tale signs. It can lead to heart failure.
In June, Wood was the 100th patient to undergo a minimally invasive aortic valve-replacement procedure, known as TAVR, at the local Adventist hospital.
An event commemorating the milestone was held at the hospital on Thursday evening.
Before the early 2010s, when the technology arrived in the United States, Wood would have faced open-heart surgery or, likely, death. Those diagnosed with aortic stenosis have a 50% chance of dying within two years if left untreated, according to Dr. Amir Sadrzadeh Rafie, a cardiologist at Adventist.
It was “almost impossible” that they would live past five years, he said.
About 80% of people over the age of 80 have some degree of the condition, said Dr. Harry Balian, the hospital’s director of cardiology.
TAVR involves implanting an animal valve, often from a pig, through a small incision in the patient’s groin.
“It’s life changing. It’s a landmark in the history of medicine,” Rafie said. Based on studies, “only vaccines have likely saved more lives.”
He added, “It means a lot to all of us [at the hospital] to be able to offer it.”
After waking up after the surgery, Wood said he wondered if it had happened.
“Because I didn’t have pain anywhere,” he said.
“When I had my tonsils out when I was a child, they had you there for a couple of days eating jello and ice cream,” Wood said. “Now you can have a heart procedure and [almost] go home the same day.”
Wood spent the night in the hospital and left the next day, which is typical for the procedure, Balian said.
Balian said he brought the procedure to the hospital in 2016.
“My goal is to bring the newest technology, the most advanced care to patients,” he said.
According to Balian, Adventist Glendale is one of the only hospitals in the immediate area to offer the procedure.
The procedure takes about 30 minutes, but there is additional surgery prep time, and multiple tests and consultations happen outside the operating room, Balian said.
When the procedure first arrived in the United States, it was only approved for those who could not undergo open-heart surgery, according to Rafie. About four months ago, the FDA approved the surgery for anyone who qualifies for a traditional valve replacement, Balian said.
Not everyone is an ideal candidate for the procedure. For example, a person on the younger side who has not had a previous valve replacement might be better off receiving a mechanical valve that lasts significantly longer but requires a more invasive procedure, Balian said.
Wood said he can now retrieve his mail with ease. A one-time vintage car racer, he also continues to take his Porsche 550 Spyder and Jaguar XK120 out for spins.
“Everything anybody else can do, I can do, too,” Wood said. “And I don’t have to breathe so heavy when I’m doing it.”