Two thumbs up for TAVR

“I’m a tough guy. I worked in construction for more than 40 years. I can handle it.” That’s what Lincoln resident George DeCaro, 90, told his cardiologist when finally agreeing to have a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, also known as TAVR.

DeCaro has been seeing Interventional Cardiologist Roberto Scaffidi, MD, of Bayhealth Cardiology Consultants, since suffering a heart attack almost 10 years ago. Roughly two years ago, Dr. Scaffidi began talking with DeCaro about having the TAVR procedure done. TAVR is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to address severe aortic stenosis and is an alternative to standard aortic valve replacement. This disease weakens the heart by causing it to work harder to pump blood throughout the body, resulting in weakness, dizziness, and a lack of tolerance for exercise or ability to complete daily activities.

It took two years of conversations about the TAVR procedure before DeCaro finally agreed to move forward. “I originally told Dr. Scaffidi that I wouldn’t have the surgery and that I preferred to die a natural death, but each month I was becoming weaker,” DeCaro said. He had long suffered from the expected symptoms of aortic stenosis, but when he reached the point of having to hold on to the wall to walk to the bathroom at night, the time had come to have surgery. “I told him to do whatever he has to do. I’m tough. I worked in construction. I was in perfect peace with it and had no fear,” DeCaro said.

When waking up from surgery, DeCaro felt so well, it was as if he hadn’t had the surgery. He even told Dr. Scaffidi that if it wasn’t for a minor pain, he’d have sworn the surgery was cancelled. Soon after waking up, DeCaro was walking around the hospital with the nursing staff. The next day when returning from his walk, he was met by Chief of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Gary Szydlowski, MD, who was the lead surgeon on the procedure along with Dr. Scaffidi as the lead cardiologist. “He asked me how I was doing. I said I loved it here, the nurses couldn’t be better, but there’s no place like home,” said DeCaro. Later that day, his wife Loretta picked him up and took him home to Lincoln.

Dr. Szydlowski said the procedure went flawlessly, noting that outside of DeCaro’s cardiac disease, he was in good health, was motivated, and had excellent heart function, making him a superb candidate for the procedure. “Although TAVR is still an operation, for the proper patient, the risks are substantially less than the traditional open heart surgery. The recovery is very fast and patients are back to full activity in only two weeks,” Dr. Szydlowski said. “It is very gratifying for the entire TAVR team to see these patients do well. Patients are ecstatic about the improvement in their symptoms.”

The results of DeCaro’s TAVR procedure are exactly why Dr. Scaffidi encouraged the surgery. When asked how he feels post-surgery, DeCaro exclaimed he hasn’t felt this good in years. “This has given me a new lease on life. I feel like I’m 21. Having the procedure is one of the best things I ever did.” Knowing DeCaro is back to doing his daily activities such as working around the house and yard is what drives Dr. Scaffidi to work with heart patients. “It feels great because I knew what his limitations were before and can see how much better he feels in such a short span of time. He’s out this summer doing yard work, and I’m not worried whether or not he’s in pain. And I know his wife feels better, too,” Dr. Scaffidi said.

Visit Bayhealth.org/TAVR to learn more about the procedure. To be matched with a Bayhealth physician, call 1-866-BAY-DOCS.