Milestone in procedure to fix leaky hearts

[3 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • The team of heart specialists of Swedish’s Structural Heart and Valve Disease Program recently completed their 500th MitraClip™ procedure.

  • MitraClip™ is a device used to treat leaky hearts, known as valve regurgitation, in patients who are not good candidates for open heart surgery.

  •  A structural heart specialist at Swedish talks about the innovative treatment option and explains how it elevates heart care for the region.

With Valentine’s Day and National Heart Month, much of February is focused on mending a broken heart. But for the team of specialists who make up the Structural Heart and Valve Disease Program at Swedish, fixing a leaky heart is the top priority throughout the year.

The team recently completed their 500th MitraClip™ procedure – placing the program they started ten years ago among top five for volume in the country in 2022.

MitraClip™ is a device used to treat valve regurgitation, or a leaky heart, in patients who are not good candidates for open heart surgery. Placement of the device is done with a minimally invasive procedure that does not require open heart surgery or stopping the heart temporarily.

“We’ve found ways to treat some of these issues that formerly required open heart surgery by using catheters and minimally invasive techniques,” says Sameer A. Gafoor, M.D., Medical Director of Structural Heart Disease at Swedish. “This requires a much shorter time in the hospital. And often, these cases can be done with conscious sedation, meaning they can go home not long after the procedure.”

What makes a “leaky” heart?

When blood circulates from one chamber of your heart to the next, it must flow through one of four valves to get where it’s supposed to be.

On the left side of your heart, the valve between the two chambers is called the mitral valve. Mitral valve regurgitation is a condition that occurs when the mitral valve doesn’t close properly.

On the right side of your heart, the tricuspid valve separates the upper and lower chambers. Tricuspid valve regurgitation occurs when the valve is faulty.

“Valves are like doors, they open and they shut. Valve regurgitation occurs when one of the valves is having a hard time closing,” explains Dr. Gafoor. “Blood backs up close to the lungs and that causes shortness of breath, fatigue, lightheadedness and other health challenges.”

“A lot of times, valve regurgitation can be treated with medications. But many times, patients need to address their valve issues to feel better,” says Dr. Gafoor. “There are a couple of ways to do that. One is open heart surgery. But many people are not great candidates for open heart surgery. And so, for them, they really did not have options. That’s where the MitraClip™ procedure comes in.”

MitraClip™

If left untreated, about 57% of people with leaky heart valves may not survive one year, according to Dr. Gafoor. The MitraClip™ procedure gives them options they didn’t have before the device became available.

During the placement procedure, your physician uses a thin tube called a catheter to implant a small clip on the faulty valve. This helps it close more securely and restores normal blood flow through your heart. The implanted clip becomes a permanent part of your heart.

The procedure typically requires a short hospital stay of one to five days and you should not need any special assistance once you return home. Post-procedure care is handled by your primary care physician with assistance and input from your heart care team.

“With 500 procedures under our belts, we’ve been able to streamline and improve our care. The time it takes to complete the procedure has decreased. Our safety is great and our results are excellent as well. A lot of times, people are going home the same day or the next day and back to their doctor with full recovery within the first seven to 10 days,” says Dr. Gafoor.

“Patients come to Swedish from all over for their care. Most programs do 20 procedures a year. Our team performs more than 120 cases a year. That’s more than six times the national average for experience,” says Dr. Gafoor.

“We work with our Providence partners up and down Puget Sound. We work with doctors in Olympia and Everett to help them bring their patients here for care. They come here for their procedure. Then their pre-procedural evaluation and follow up are all done locally. A lot of the follow up is done with telehealth visits and telemedicine,” he explains.

Clinical research expands care options

“A commitment to clinical research helps us gain invaluable expertise and allows us to provide innovative procedures and world-class care close to home,” says Dr. Gafoor. “We’ve got a leg up on the competition and a leg up on our data from participating in research studies.”

TRILUMINATE trial

Swedish participated in the TRILUMINATE trial – a multicenter study carried out in 21 sites in the United States and Europe. The study used a MitraClip™ to address leakage in the heart’s tricuspid valve. This expansion of the device’s original use provides more options for valve repair and replacement.

COAPT trial

Swedish was a participation site for the COAPT trial. The study took place at 78 locations in the United States and Canada. It showed minimally invasive valve repair was viable for heart failure patients who had not responded well to medication.

“The COAPT study was a landmark trial. Before it began, there were no proven surgical therapies for this type of regurgitation. The study was fundamental in expanding the number of patients that can be treated,” says Dr. Gafoor.

EVEREST trial

The EVEREST trial compared the effectiveness of conventional mitral valve surgery and the MitraClip™ for patients with mitral valve regurgitation. The study showed promising results for people with moderate to severe valve issues and expanded their treatment options.  

“By being first and foremost in the care of this condition, we have elevated structural heart and cardiovascular care in Seattle, Washington and the Pacific Northwest,” says Dr. Gafoor. “We have been able to present our research locally, nationally and internationally. We’ve been able to collaborate with high-volume centers across the globe. We train other physicians to use this technology across the country and around the world. We are able to take on both simple and complex cases.”

“A lot of times people think they need to travel to other states for their care,” he adds. “But that’s not true. They can get the care they need right here.”

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Learn more and find a provider

Are you at risk for cardiovascular disease? Contact the experts at the Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute at 206-320-4100 to learn more about the cardiac care we offer that can make a lasting difference in your life.

Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction, and follow up as needed. If you need to find a provider, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

Eight essentials for heart health

Meditation, mindfulness and music for heart health

Heart Disease: What women need to know

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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