Two Life-saving Heart Devices Give Point Pleasant Native New Hope

Art Birdsall

May 24, 2022

When 72-year-old Arthur “Art” Birdsall could barely walk from his decoy shop to the mailbox outside, he knew his heart was the culprit.

Art, a fourth-generation master decoy maker and native of Point Pleasant, New Jersey had already undergone open heart surgery in 2019 at Jersey Shore University Medical Center to bolster his failing heart with a mechanical heart pump called an LVAD (left ventricular assist device). But two years later, he was again gasping for air and worried he’d have to close his beloved wood-carving business. The culprit was a failing heart valve.

Instead of another open heart surgery, the hospital’s Heart Team devised a unique, innovative treatment approach that made the humble craftsman one of a kind at Jersey Shore. Art is the first patient there to benefit from both an LVAD and a minimally invasive transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) to provide heart failure relief and a fresh chance at life.

Innovative Solution

Art suffered a life-threatening weakening of his entire heart in 2019 that reduced its pumping capacity to a mere 15 percent, says Matthew Saybolt, M.D., an interventional cardiologist and director of the Structural Heart Disease Program. Art’s LVAD was then implanted under the guidance of Advanced Heart Failure Center Medical Director Jesus Almendral, M.D.

He did very well until 2021 when his breathing deteriorated once again. Chief of Cardiology Brett Sealove, M.D., performed a special 3-dimensional transesophageal echocardiogram, which provides clear images of the heart using a probe inserted into the swallowing tube, or esophagus. The images revealed that Art’s new symptoms were caused by a leaky aortic valve, which keeps blood flowing through the heart in the correct direction.

“Art’s leaky valve meant the blood that the heart pumped out got returned to the heart right away without going to his body, creating a closed loop,” explains cardiothoracic surgeon Deepak Singh, M.D., surgical director of the Advanced Heart Failure Center.

Aortic valves can be replaced during open heart surgery, but such an operation was deemed too risky for Art, prompting Jersey Shore specialists to find alternate solutions. “Transcatheter aortic valve replacements are typically best suited to treat aortic stenosis, or a valve that is too tight, a different problem than Art’s,” explains Dr. Saybolt. “But the well-established technology was the perfect marriage of innovation and need.”

“We proposed a strategy to treat a problem for which there was no approved treatment,” Dr. Saybolt adds. “This turned him around. He would have died without it.”

‘A New World’

Dr. Saybolt partnered with Dr. Singh to deploy the TAVR device in Art’s heart in fall 2021. About 350 patients undergo TAVR procedures each year at Jersey Shore, the second highest-volume center for the technology in the state. The hour-long process threads the artificial valve up to the heart through a small incision in the groin.

By the day after the procedure, Art “actually realized I could breathe,” he recalls. A six-day hospital stay was followed by three-day-a-week outpatient cardiac rehabilitation at Jersey Shore to boost strength and endurance.

“We don’t foresee any other issues for Art,” Dr. Singh says. “It’s a permanent solution for him.”

“The TAVR brought life back to me. It’s almost like being introduced to a new world,” says Art, who hopes to soon get back to running his business. “It’s all positive, and my doctors treated me like I was something special.”

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

 
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