Stent procedure safer than heart valve surgery

LOS ANGELES

Retired meat-cutter Will Neighbors is still plenty sharp. But when he was diagnosed with a failing heart valve, he knew he was in trouble.

"I just couldn't do anything," said Neighbors. "I couldn't much more than walk across the floor, and then I just had to labor to do that."

Due to his age and medical history, surgery wasn't possible. But at Duke University, Neighbors was offered a new, less-invasive option: a stent valve delivered on a catheter through a groin artery to the heart.

"And rather than removing the valve, this catheter-based system is a stent that opens and pushes the old, scarred valve out of the way," said Dr. J. Kevin Harrison, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories at Duke University.

The new valve slides in to immediately replace the old one, restoring normal function.

"Every time a nurse came by I'd snatch the little old gizmos off her neck and listen to my heart, how smooth it was, and before it was just raggedy as anything you ever seen or heard," said Neighbors.

Now Neighbors is feeling stronger and feistier with every step.

"My great-great-grandpa lived to be 114," said Neighbors. "I'm shooting for that number."

With humor and a new heart valve, anything's possible.

Duke University is one of several sites around the U.S. testing a stent valve in patients who are at high risk of complications from open-heart surgery. Patients who have the stent valve procedure are typically home within a few days.

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