New ‘clip’ helps people too old, too sick for open-heart surgery


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The MitraClip is a new treatment for mitral valve repair and can take the place of surgical heart valve replacement in older patients. (Image courtesy of Abbott Vascular, Santa Clara, Calif., USA).

One of the best aspects of my career as an interventional cardiologist is that I get to see an immediate improvement in patients I treat.

As Medical Director of UT Southwestern’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab, I perform “percutaneous” procedures on patients with various types of heart disease. Percutaneous — pronounced per-cue-TAY-ne-us — literally means “through skin.” During the procedures, we can access the hearts of patients by means of a catheter that is inserted in an artery and then is guided to the problem area of the heart.

Since there is no surgical wound, patients recover from these minimally invasive procedures quickly.

My specialty is the repair of diseased heart valves through percutaneous procedures. In 2014, we added a new mitral valve repair procedure to our repertoire. The mitral valve is a two-leaflet valve between two chambers of the heart — the left atrium and the left ventricle. Sometimes, this valve doesn’t seal effectively, and when the mitral valve doesn’t close as it should, blood can leak backward into the left atrium and even into the lungs, causing serious breathing problems for the patient.

A new medical device called a MitraClip can be used to clip the two leaflets of the mitral valve together, reducing the amount of backward leakage of blood.

The benefits of MitraClip

The percutaneous MitraClip mitral valve repair procedures are used when patients are too old or have too many illnesses to have open-heart surgery to fix the problem.

During the summer of 2014, I treated Annie Henderson, a 69-year-old patient who had diabetes and kidney failure, in addition to mitral valve insufficiency. Her mitral valve leakage had turned her life into a battle for breath, eliminating almost all activities and even making sleep a struggle. She told us that she couldn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time without waking in a fit of coughing.

Our team used the MitraClip to treat her leaky mitral valve. The procedure went smoothly. “I didn’t wake up until the nurse woke me this morning,” Annie said happily on the day after her procedure.

Research has shown that this kind of percutaneous mitral valve repair is a safer alternative to surgical repair. A 2011 study found that 78 percent of patients who had the procedure were able to avoid surgery for the next two years.

Being able to help patients like this, who would otherwise have no treatment options and whose health improves immediately, is very gratifying. If you or someone you know could benefit from this type of procedure, you can request an appointment online or by calling 214-645-8300.