TAVR: Sisters get Innovative Treatment at Saint Luke’s

“I thought, ‘I’ve got things to do. I need to stick around!” Hilda Lankard

Saint Luke’s dedication to research means more patients have alternatives to care—like Hilda Lankard and Agnes Lickteig.

Agnes had known since she was a child that she had a heart murmur. It never bothered her much. Her older sister, Hilda, also had a heart condition. It didn’t slow her down, either. The sisters grew up together in Kansas, the two youngest in a big family. They worked, married, and raised a dozen children between them.

Life was busy—just the way they liked it.

As the sisters neared their 80s, they started noticing changes. Agnes had shortness of breath more often. Hilda couldn’t keep up with her kids and grandkids like she used to. Still, they didn’t worry too much. Slowing down was a natural part of aging.

That all changed in early 2016. The sisters regularly saw their doctors to monitor their constricted arteries, a condition called aortic stenosis. Both received startling news within a few weeks of one another.

Quite simply, they had outlived their heart valves. They needed surgery to repair them.

Only a few months before, their older brother had undergone open heart surgery to repair his valves. The sisters worried they would need similar complicated and risky procedures.

Fortunately, doctors at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute had good news. The sisters were candidates for a procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, more commonly called TAVR.

Saint Luke’s researchers have been at the forefront of TAVR research since its beginning and the first in the region to offer this minimally invasive procedure, said cardiologist David J. Cohen, M.D., M. Sc.,  director of cardiovascular research at the Heart Institute.

“For some patients, especially older ones, traditional open-heart surgery is risky,” he said. “TAVR is simpler and safer while still being effective.”

It also comes with a much faster recovery time—a bonus for 82-year-old Hilda and her 80-year-old baby sister Agnes.

“If it had been open-heart surgery, I don’t know if I would have done it,” Agnes said. “But the way the Saint Luke’s doctors explained it, it seemed pretty simple.”

It was. Agnes was up walking around the day after her May 12 surgery. Doctors cleared her to return home that same day. Less than two weeks later, the Saint Luke’s heart team performed the procedure on Hilda. Without it, her doctor told her, she might have two years to live. That was all she needed to hear.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got things to do,’” Hilda said. “I need to stick around and terrorize my kids a little longer!” She was home soon as well.

Aortic stenosis is a growing problem, Dr. Cohen notes. “We have an aging population who are outliving their heart valves. Saint Luke’s can offer safe, effective alternatives with the best possible outcomes for more patients.”

Our commitment to minimally invasive options continues. A team of researchers led by Keith Allen, M.D., and Adnan Chhatriwalla, M.D., will participate in PARTNER III, a study to determine if TAVR is equally effective as open-heart surgery in lower risk candidates.

Saint Luke’s research and dedication means more heart patients have alternatives to care—like Hilda and Agnes.

The sisters are now undergoing rehabilitation therapy. They look forward to their annual family reunion, which has a Wizard of Oz theme this year. With their “new parts,” they may make the Tin Man jealous.