A Happy Anniversary



A little Yorkie barks in the background as Betty Christensen discusses her Thanksgiving plans. She talks about going to her daughter’s house or maybe having a few friends over and is already thinking about what pies to bake.

“I think I’ll make a pumpkin or an apple,” says Betty excitedly.

And while baking a dessert for the holiday might not seem like a big deal, to Betty it is.

“I couldn’t do it before,” says the 80 year-old. “My arms would get so tired, and I would get out of breath. I was having such a hard time.”

It has been a little over a year since Betty became the first patient at Sanford to receive a groundbreaking new procedure. TAVR or transcatheter aortic valve replacement, not only opened up Betty’s weakening aortic valve but also opened her life up to new possibilities.

Betty was suffering from aortic stenosis, where the aortic valve narrows causing the heart to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body. This condition is common among people over the age of 75, but it can seriously affect their day-to-day life.

“Betty was suffering from severe symptoms,” says Sanford interventional cardiologist and cardiovascular services director Tom Stys, MD. “This led to our only option, replacement of her aortic valve through our TAVR procedure.”

Due to past health issues, Betty was unable to have the open-heart surgery typically used to fix the valve. However she was the perfect candidate for Sanford’s first TAVR procedure. Sanford was one of the first 100 locations in the country to offer the procedure to its patients and remains the only heart hospital in South Dakota where it is performed. The surgery is minimally invasive and uses a catheter that is inserted in the groin and is then threaded up to the heart. This increases recovery time and means less time in the hospital for patients.

“Everything went good,” says Betty. “And it’s still going good.”

Betty just made the trip to Sioux Falls from her home in Brookings for her year anniversary check-up. And it’s no surprise that she is doing great.

“I am very pleased with her results,” says Dr. Stys. “We see people who couldn’t walk across the room to go to the bathroom, and now they can go bowling. Betty really did great.”

And while the valve is doing its job, Dr. Stys says that patients still need to be vigilant about their health.

“People need to stay active and avoid the biggest enemy, sedentary lifestyles” says Dr. Stys.

“I try to do the best that I can,” says Betty. “Now that it’s a little colder out I can’t walk outside, but I walk around the house and do a few things. You have to stay active. If you aren’t active, you could go downhill really fast.”

Since Betty, Dr. Stys and his team have performed over 40 TAVR procedures. He says it is only a matter of time before this is the standard instead of open-heart surgery.

“I think that’s where we are headed,” says Dr. Stys. “We will have the minimally invasive approach expanding more and more.”

As for Betty’s future, she is excited to see what it has to offer.

“I had such a hard time breathing. Now I can talk and I can visit,” Betty says proudly. “Now I’m just working on making it to my second anniversary.”

Posted Date: January 2014

A Happy Anniversary

It has been one year since Betty became the first person to undergo the TAVR procedure. Now she can live life the way she wants.

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