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Utah woman alive because of new heart valve treatment

By Richard Piatt | Posted - Jul 16th, 2013 @ 9:24pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City woman is alive today thanks to an advanced heart valve treatment. Just a few years ago, that same procedure wasn't available in Utah, but it is now and it's quite popular.

A couple years ago, an aortic heart valve replacement surgery would have required open heart surgery. Now a small incision is all it takes to literally add years and quality of life to people with failing aortic valves. Merna Nielsen is 83 years old, and living a happy life. But she says not long ago, it was a different story.

"I felt bad, I couldn't get my breath, Merna said. "I couldn't go out and get the mail without stopping. And I got so I couldn't sweep my floor."

Her doctors told her she had aortic stenosis, a failing heart valve. But Merna couldn't have open heart surgery and she wanted to live for her 16 great-grandchildren.

"Whatever they had to do, do it," Merna said.

Her doctor was able to replace her valve by inserting a catheter through an artery in her groin, a procedure called Trans-catheter Aortic valve replacement — far less invasive than open heart surgery.

Dr. Gilbert Scorlemmer says the procedure is similar to a balloon angioplasty. The new valve is attached, then inserted, on the catheter and positioned inside the natural valve.


You'll pardon me for using the phrase, but it's downright amazing. There's no other word I can think of to describe it.

–Dr. Gilbert Scorlemmer


Then a balloon is inflated, a pacer increases the heart rate, and the new valve is set in place.

"That forces the stent out against the aortic tissues, it looks good, we deflate the balloon that forces the stent out, we turn the pacer off and we're done," Scorlemmer said.

It's success speaks for itself and the Nielsen's are grateful.

"I can't keep up with her," said Ray Nielsen, Merna's husband. "And she never stops to get her breath."

Merna says she is back to feeling normal again.

"I feel great," Merna Nielsen said. "I feel great now for what I did."

Scorlemmer says the non-invasive procedure is saving many lives.

"You'll pardon me for using the phrase, but it's downright amazing," he said. "There's no other word I can think of to describe it."

St. Mark's hospital is where Merna had her procedure done but it's available at the University of Utah hospital and Iintermountain Medical Center as well — truly an advancement that will benefit a lot of people.

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