On this Valentine's week news of a new heart procedure that's now being done at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.  Could it take the place of traditional open heart surgery?  In some cases the answer is yes.

As we age it's not uncommon to develop aortic valve stenosis. It's a hardening and narrowing of the aortic valve, the last valve blood moves through as it leaves the heart.  People with aortic valve stenosis frequently need open heart surgery to have the valve replaced.

Barbara Walters recently had open heart surgery to replace the aortic valve. Now there is a new way to fix the problem that's much less invasive than open heart surgery.

Bill Mashburn spoke to WDBJ7 about the procedure. He loves fly fishing in Wyoming, but this retired professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, Mashburn had not been feeling good recently. Fishing was out of the question.

Mashburn suffered from shortness of breath and a general lack of energy. "I had reached a point where I could hardly go from one bedroom to the other," Mashburn said. "When I came to the hospital I was at the end of the trail because I could hardly breath."

Dr. Jason Foerst is the Interventional Cardiologist who treated Mashburn.  He used a new procedure called TAVI which stands for  transcatheter aortic valve implantation. During this procedure a cardiologist inserts a new aortic valve into a patient through a long tube. That new valve is put into place over the old worn out valve.

"So instead of doing an open heart procedure and stopping the heart and putting the patient on a heart lung machine. We're able to use a replacement or implant a new valve while the heart is still beating and the patient has a much faster recovery time," Dr. Jason Foerst said.

Dr. Foerst showed the WDBJ7 crew the valve which is made out of cow tissue and surrounded by steel mesh.  I asked him if the steel stays in the patient.  "Yes," he said. It does.

"This is still the early generation of these valves. We're going to see a lot to changes in valves over the next five years," said Dr. Foerst. "They're going to get better. They're going to get easier to implant."  So far though the results are promising, according to Dr. Foerst.

Mashburn had his valve implantation last month. His recovery has been quick. "Couple days (and)  I'm up and kicking pretty good," Mashburn said. "I feel good. I feel a bit better everyday. My energy is coming back rather rapidly."

Mashburn is 85.  His age and the fact that he some other health issues made him high risk for open heart surgery and a perfect candidate for this new procedure. "We're looking at patients in their eighties and nineties most for this procedure," said Dr. Foerst. "Potentially younger patients if they have a lot of medical problems, in particular kidney problems that require dialysis or lung problems that would make it hard to tolerate open heart surgery."

Mashburn is retired from Virginia Tech but continues to teach a mechanical engineering course part time.  He laughs and smiles as he talks about his future that is now looking bright.  "I'm looking forward to getting back to pretty normal life for me which was not normal before that," Mashburn said.

Perhaps that will include more fly fishing in Wyoming.


More on TAVI (TranscatheterAortic Valve Implantationn)

TAVI was first used in Europe in 2007. It was given Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States within the last year.

The first TAVI done at Carilion Roanoke Memorial was in May. Since then cardiologists have done 8 TAVI procedures and they're set to do many more in the coming months.  Unlike open heart surgery an interventional cardiologist not a cardiac surgeon does the procedure. The team of surgeons and cardiologists works together to determine which procedure is best for each patient.