Alaska Regional's TAVR team celebrates after the successful first case on June 25, 2020.

Anchorage, AK - Two transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedures were performed at Alaska Regional Hospital yesterday, marking the start of the hospital's new heart valve replacement program, which had been postponed due to COVID-19.

TAVR is a minimally invasive procedure for patients with severe aortic stenosis, which occurs when the heart valve narrows due to calcium buildup, restricting blood from flowing freely through the valve. This may cause shortness of breath, low energy, and can ultimately be life threatening.

Until recently, only patients for whom open-heart surgery was too risky were eligible for this option. The FDA approved expanded criteria for the procedure last August, making more patients eligible and resulting in greater demand. Alaska Regional has long performed successful open heart procedures and is pleased to expand access and services to include what has proven to be an effective procedure.

"I am very proud of our team and grateful for our physician partners who worked together to make this life-changing procedure more available for patients in our community," said Julie Taylor, Alaska Regional's CEO. "It is another example of our commitment to ensuring Alaskans can receive leading edge care here at home."

TAVR is performed by an interventional cardiologist and a cardiothoracic surgeon. A replacement valve is inserted through a small incision in the patient's leg and guided to the site of the damaged one in the heart. Once in position, the new valve opens and closes more efficiently, significantly improving blood flow through the heart.

The TAVR procedure typically takes less than an hour and patients are often hospitalized for just one night. Often, they feel immediate results in being able to breathe better and resume a healthier lifestyle. Most important, their risk for heart failure is significantly reduced. In contrast, open-heart surgery, the other option for valve replacement, is associated with increased risks and involves a lengthy hospitalization and recovery.

"One thing that's important to underscore as the pandemic continues is the importance of not delaying necessary medical care," Taylor added. "In too many cases, people are putting off procedures and care - including for serious heart conditions - that should not be put on hold. Our hospital system in Alaska is not overwhelmed like we've seen in other states, and our hospital is among the safest possible places to receive care. People should continue to seek the care they need, and we're prepared to help no matter how big or small the need."