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Advances in Heart Care

Featuring Top Docs - Cardiologists Christian Simpfendorfer, M.D., Christopher Cole, M.D., Brian Metz M.D. and Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeon John Mehall, M.D.

Advance Treatment for Your Heart Valve

69 years – that’s how long Virginia and her husband have been married. When her doctor told her that her heart valve wasn’t working properly and she only had two years left to live, she wasn’t ready to accept it. That’s when her cardiologist suggested she would be an excellent candidate for a new procedure known as Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, or TAVR.

In some people, calcium builds up on the valve in their heart that opens and closes to regulate the flow of blood. This build-up of calcium impairs the valve’s ability to fully open and close.

“They tell me that I only had a small amount of blood going through the valve,” said Virginia.

As a result, the narrowed valve allows less oxygen-rich blood to flow from the lungs to the brain and the rest of the body which may cause severe shortness of breath and extreme fatigue.

“When I would go to the grocery store, I would have to stop and rest because of the pain in my chest and back,” said Virginia. “I thought I was just lazy because I had no energy.”

While open-chest surgery to replace the aortic heart valve is the gold standard treatment, there are some patients, like Virginia, who are not eligible for surgery. These patients may be candidates for TAVR. In Virginia’s case, this procedure allowed Cardiologist Christian Simpfendorfer, M.D. and Cardiovascular Surgeon John Mehall, M.D. to replace her diseased heart valve without open-chest surgery.

“I have so much energy now,” said Virginia. “I feel great. I’m ready to get back to playing basketball.” The twinkle in her eyes showed that this 88-year-old wasn’t really headed back to the gym, but she continued with a smile, saying, “But I am ready to go back to playing Bridge. When they call me, I’ll be there.”

In just a few months, the doctors at Penrose Hospital will have a new operating Ste to perform TAVR procedures. The “Hybrid” Operating Room, which is the only one of its kind in southern Colorado, is a large surgical Ste that combines state-of-the-art technology with a sterile operating room environment. Nearly twice as large and more than double the expense of a normal operating space, the Hybrid OR allows multidisciplinary teams of doctors to provide state-of-the-art care – cutting less, and seeing more. The room and equipment are designed to reduce procedure times and reduce infection and complication rates, thereby improving patient outcomes and decreasing costs.

The Penrose-St. Francis Health Foundation collaborated with hospital administration on a plan to help fund this $5.7 million project. With lead investments by Catholic Health Initiatives, El Pomar Foundation’s Ackerman Fund, and significant gifts from local philanthropists, $4.6 million has already been committed. Local fundraising efforts will continue to coincide with the planned project completion in late 2013. 

But not every patient who has a heart murmur needs surgery. Under the leadership of Dr. Brian Metz, Penrose-St. Francis has developed a new Murmur Clinic for people with a family history of heart valve disease who have been diagnosed with a heart murmur, or who have had an abnormal echocardiogram. They will be followed and treated sooner rather than later and, hopefully, reduce the need for surgery.

A Safer Path to your Heart

Dr. Simpfendorfer and his colleagues have begun using the artery in a patient’s wrist to treat blockages in the heart, instead of the traditional approach through the leg. The routine use of this procedure is new to southern Colorado and is gaining momentum due to the significant benefits.

“Patients enjoy less discomfort; they’re up and moving sooner and there are fewer complications,” said Dr. Simpfendorfer. “Over the past year, the percentage of heart procedures at Penrose-St. Francis using this approach has increased from 15 to 75 percent.”

The Beat of Your Heart

While the blood flowing through your heart – and to your heart – is vitally important, the electrical signals which make your heart beat are equally important.
“The majority of people I treat have atrial fibrillation, or in simple terms, an irregular heart beat,” said Dr. Christopher Cole. “I encourage patients to pursue their treatment options so they don’t just have to live with atrial fibrillation.”

Unlike twenty years ago, options now include medications, new blood thinners, and catheter ablations –
a minimally invasive treatment through a vein. Dr. Cole is the principal investigator for several cutting edge research projects, including one in partnership with our heart surgeons.

For more information on these procedures, go to and click on Heart and Vascular Center.