Ken D.

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Ken Darby was in pain. His aortic valve had grown so calcified, his cardiologist likened it to porcelain. He couldn’t walk up hills without getting winded, he was tired all the time, and a trip he and his wife, Annette, had planned to France had to be put on hold.

He needed surgery.

Darby had already undergone an open heart bypass surgery in 2006, but surgeons left his calcified aorta alone. It was too hardened, even then, to risk clamping and replacing because a shard of it could break off, travel up to his brain and cause a stroke.

By March of this year, however, the 75-year-old retired Yorba Linda educator could not wait much longer. His quality of life was declining, and the pain in his chest was getting worse. Ramesh Rathod, M.D., a cardiologist at St. Jude Medical Center, a member of the St. Joseph Hoag Health alliance, performed an echocardiogram and an angiogram and determined Darby was a good candidate for the new non-surgical, transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).

TAVR uses a tiny incision in the groin area to snake a catheter containing a bio-prosthetic valve into the patient’s own damaged aortic valve. The new valve is put into place, and the heart begins operating normally.

Not many medical centers offer this treatment, but thankfully for Orange County patients, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian has been performing this relatively new procedure for two years.

“Convenience is a big factor,” said Dr. Rathod. “Driving to different hospitals in LA can be difficult for patients and family members.”

Hoag also offered something other hospitals don’t – compassion. Darby raved about his medical team including: Cardiologist Subbarao Myla, M.D.; Cardiovascular Surgeons Anthony Caffarelli, M.D. and Aidan Raney, M.D.; Echocardiologist Pravin Shah, M.D., Valve Center Pre-Op nurse Marita Fabros and TAVR Nurse Practitioner, Peggy Morley, DNP, CCNS, ANP-BC. Morley met with Ken and Annette, went through all the information, handled the insurance issues necessary to get his procedure approved, set up meetings between Darby and the whole medical team and took a lot of the stress out of the situation for both Ken and Annette.

“Peggy Morley was an absolute saint in this. We couldn’t have accomplished this without her help,” said Ken. “Afterwards, she called just to check up on me. She was great.”

In fact, Darby’s whole team stood out to him as being helpful and considerate.

“We have a well-trained team composed of interventional cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, cardiac anesthesiologists and nurses,” said co-director of Hoag Cardiovascular Surgery Anthony Caffarelli, M.D. “The team focuses first on evaluation and education, followed by execution of the procedure with meticulous follow through – not only for the patient but also their family. The results are better outcomes and happier patients.”

During the procedure, nurse Jenny Rivas called a very nervous Annette on her cell phone with periodic updates from the hybrid cardiac operating room. Thanks to Jenny’s calls, Annette knew when prep was over, when the new valve was in place and even when to expect the doctors to come out and talk to her.

“When she said, ‘Let me have your cell phone number,’ I didn’t expect her to call like that,” Annette said. “It took the anxiety off because I knew what was going on. I wasn’t worried the entire time.”

Because TAVR is a minimally invasive procedure, recovery was relatively quick. Within three weeks of his procedure, Darby resumed all his normal activities, including golf, daily walks with Annette and going to the gym. They’re now talking about revisiting that France trip.

“All in all it was a marvelous experience, if being in the hospital and having a procedure can be a marvelous experience,” Ken laughed. “I’m extremely thankful that TAVR was available so close to home and by such an experienced, caring team.”