Works of heart: McLaren Port Huron celebrates 50th patient to receive new lifesaving heart procedure

It was late December 2022 when a group of cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, nurse practitioners, and members of the hospital administration staff gathered for dinner at the Vintage Tavern in Port Huron. While not unusual to see a group of coworkers out for dinner, and especially during the holiday season, this particular gathering was a special one. This was a celebration, a momentous occasion to recognize each other’s hard work, cooperation, and dedication.

Not to put too fine a point on it but you could even say that it was a celebration of life.

That’s because the group gathered at the Vintage was the team from the McLaren Port Huron Valve Clinic, a relatively new department at the hospital that had just served its 50th patient. Known internally as the TAVR Team, it’s the group responsible for performing the lifesaving Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement procedure. It’s a procedure that was unavailable in the region until McLaren Port Huron launched the new program in May of 2021.

“There’s so much work that goes into this being successful and having a successful program, and for us to have such good outcomes. To provide this care to so many people in our community is very rewarding,” says Pattie Dziubinski, manager of McLaren Port Huron’s Cardiovascular Lab, Extended Stay Unit. “The teamwork between all the different departments and hospital administration – just seeing everybody coming together and working hand-in-hand for that one patient, to help them? It's very rewarding.”

As of this publication, 53 patients have so far received the TAVR procedure at McLaren Port Huron, which outpaces the team’s initial projection of serving two patients per month. Prior to its launch, patients in the Port Huron area would have to drive to Macomb or further into the Detroit area to find a hospital to perform the lifesaving procedure. Now they can get it in their own backyard, relieving patients of the stresses of time and money associated with traveling for healthcare.

And when it comes to taking care of patients’ hearts, eliminating stress is paramount.

“There’s so much work that goes into this being successful and having a successful program, and for us to have such good outcomes," says Pattie Dziubinski, manager of McLaren Port Huron’s Cardiovascular Lab, Extended Stay Unit.On staying close to home

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) is a relatively new procedure for treating severe aortic stenosis, or the narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve. When the heart’s aortic valve narrows, it forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body, eventually weakening the heart muscle and progressing to heart failure and sudden cardiac death.

It’s critical that patients treat severe aortic stenosis (AS). Statistics show that 50 percent of patients with severe AS will die within two years and 95 percent will die within five years. Prior to the development of TAVR, patients would undergo the standard treatment of surgical aortic valve replacement. TAVR provides a less invasive and less time-intensive option with shorter recovery times. Patients now receive their custom heart valves through a puncture or small incision via catheter, rather than the standard surgical opening. The procedure typically lasts one to two hours instead of the previous four-to-five-hour surgery. This also results in shorter hospital stays. TAVR patients are typically recovering at the hospital for two to three days in lieu of the five to seven days that surgery requires. Surgical procedure is still available and best for a certain patient population.

“When TAVR came about, we had patients that were high-risk and couldn’t have a surgical procedure to replace their valves, so we sent them to other hospitals to have the procedure done. So, we decided that we were going to get the training and start the program here, so that people wouldn't have to leave the community,” Dziubinski says.

There’s a lot that goes into getting a patient ready for the TAVR procedure. It’s a testing process that can take several weeks and multiple appointments, making the procedure’s availability right here in Port Huron more valuable to residents throughout the region.

“There's a lot of tests required. You must go to the TAVR Clinic, you have to be seen by the cardiothoracic surgeon, you have to be seen by the interventional cardiologists. We have nurse practitioners that run the clinic, so they're guiding the patient through the process and are available for patients to call and ask any questions that they or their family might have while going through the screening process. Patients will have a CT scan done so that we can measure the size of their valve and look at their aorta. That information is then sent to the company that makes the valve specifically for that patient,” Dziubinski says.

“It requires multiple appointments and multiple tests that patients would otherwise have to leave the community to get done, and now we're able to do all of that right here in Port Huron.”

Inside the McLaren Port Huron Valve Clinic where the innovative TAVR procedure is performed.

New procedure, new skills

With new procedures come new skills required of hospital staff, and training is required to gain those new skills. And training, of course, requires money. Fortunately for the hospital, the McLaren Port Huron Foundation was able to pay for the training needed to accurately execute the TAVR procedure.

“The foundation provided the funds to educate the CT scan department, which is so important because everything depends on measuring that valve right, because each replacement valve is specifically made for each patient,” Dziubinski says.

Supporting the hospital in making key upgrades and improvements is one of the primary reasons that the McLaren Port Huron Foundation exists. The most recent Festival of Trees fundraising event, for example, helped raise funds for the hospital to purchase the Hologic Upright Breast Biopsy Guidance system, which enhances imaging capabilities and creates a better patient experience. With the Hologic system, physicians will be able to biopsy lesions that are only visible with tomosynthesis imaging, while delivering a lower X-ray dose and reducing a patient’s time under compression.

The McLaren Port Huron Valve Clinic and its TAVR Team benefited from the Foundation’s mission in the spring of 2021, with CT scan staff learning how to properly measure patients’ aortic valves for replacement. And with 53 successful procedures and counting, the Port Huron community at large is benefitting from that mission, too.

“We depend on the foundation a lot,” Dziubinski says. “With their help providing the funds for these educational opportunities and pieces of equipment that we need, it improves the care that we provide our patients. It really does. And the more knowledge that we can get the staff, the better we are at providing care.”

Visit the McLaren Port Huron Valve Clinic online to learn more about transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) and additional lifesaving procedures available at McLaren Port Huron today.