Low risk heart valve procedure results in remarkably quick recovery

Active 75-year-old thriving after undergoing TAVI

Tuesday, October 24 2023

For a vibrant 75-year-old resident of Paarl who suddenly found herself severely ill with a potentially life-threatening heart condition, the path to recovery was surprisingly straightforward and quick, thanks to a highly specialised cardiac procedure.

Esmé Dreyer, an active member of her community who loves dancing and catching up over a pot of tea with her friends, had been undergoing some tests with her doctor following a health check-up when the possibility of a narrowed heart valve arose.

Having felt perfectly fine prior to this, it came as a shock to Esmé when, one evening, she experienced an alarming onset of symptoms, including tightness in her chest, pain radiating to her shoulder blades and a severe burning sensation in her chest.

Esme Dreyer, a resident of Paarl, recovered quickly after undergoing the transcatheter aortic valve intervention (TAVI) procedure at Netcare Kuils River Hospital, a minimally invasive intervention that involves replacing a diseased heart valve with an artificial heart valve.


Dr Andre Dippenaar, a physician practising at Netcare Kuils River Hospital, explains that Esmé was suffering from severe aortic stenosis. “This condition affects the functioning of the aortic valve and puts strain on the heart. It can result in symptoms such as those that Esmé was experiencing, loss of consciousness, and a high risk of death.”

After ending up in the intensive care unit, Esmé underwent a series of tests, including an investigation of existing pulmonary issues, though this proved to be unrelated.

“The jolting revelation I was faced with during my hospital stay was that one of my heart valves was severely damaged. When I received the daunting news that I would need to undergo heart surgery for the replacement of this valve, I staunchly resisted the idea, having witnessed the long and difficult journey that my brother went through after undergoing open heart surgery for the same condition some years before,” she notes.

However, as her medical team explained, Esmé would not have to endure anything like that which her brother had experienced. Instead, they proposed a non-surgical transcatheter aortic valve intervention (TAVI) procedure, which is performed by inserting a special tube, or catheter, through the groin that is then directed via a blood vessel to the heart to perform the valve replacement.

Dr Pieter van der Bijl, a cardiologist who, along with Dr Dippenaar and Dr Johann Augustyn, an interventional cardiothoracic surgeon, form part of the TAVI team at Netcare Kuils River Hospital, explains that severe aortic stenosis is traditionally treated with surgical aortic valve replacement.


“While this remains the treatment of choice for younger patients, it constitutes a very high risk in elderly or frail patients. TAVI, on the other hand is a minimally invasive intervention, which involves replacing a diseased heart valve with an artificial heart valve,” he explains.  

“Among the advantages offered by the TAVI procedure over open-heart surgery is that patients are able to recover much more quickly after the operation.”

Esmé says that when it came to considering the treatment options which her doctors had thoroughly explained, the decision to proceed with the TAVI procedure seemed the most logical answer. “It was clear that something had to be done, as the prognosis without treatment was really not good but once I understood the TAVI option, I felt calm and reassured.

“The day after my procedure, I was allowed to start walking around, and within days I was given the green light to be discharged from the hospital. I took it very easy at home, and within just three weeks, I began to feel like a completely new person. I’m so glad I had the procedure – I am living proof of just how remarkably easy it is to recover and thrive, though I have not returned to the dance floor just yet.

“The level of care I received at Netcare Kuils River Hospital was exceptional, from the porter to the surgeon. The nurses and the cleaning staff treated me with such kindness that I couldn't help but say that I might return there for a vacation,” she jokes.

Dr van der Bijl notes that TAVI is an intricate procedure requiring a high level of training, expertise and supporting technology. Historically the TAVI procedure was reserved for patients at very high risk for valve surgery, but over time, studies have shown it is highly beneficial for those at lower surgical risk and that the threshold for considering candidates for the procedure has lowered, enabling more patients to access it than in the past.

“Following the procedure, most patients will experience a dramatic improvement in their quality of life within weeks, if not days, with less shortness of breath and fatigue. It has the potential to be not only life saving but life changing, and we are pleased that more patients are beginning to benefit from it,” he concludes.


Notes to editor
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