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First TAVR Patient

First TAVR patient and UCLA cardiologist Dr. William Suh
UCLA cardiologist Dr. William Suh and patient Carolyn Starbird at follow-up clinic visit Aug. 15 after her transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center that took place Aug. 9, 2012.

Glendale Grandmother Truly Has Reason to Celebrate Her Birthday

First to Receive New Heart Procedure at UCLA

Carolyn Starbird, a Glendale grandmother, turns 63 this Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012 and truly has a reason to celebrate a new lease on life. For years she has been battling scleroderma, a devastating disease that causes a build-up of collagen and other problems that affect the skin and internal organs such as the heart.  

She was too sick to receive open-heart surgery that she desperately needed to replace her aortic valve that had become riddled with calcium deposits, a condition called aortic stenosis that makes it harder for the heart to push blood through the aorta. She also suffers from pulmonary hypertension, which causes high blood pressure in her lungs that also strains the heart. The combination of both is especially lethal. She was suffering from shortness of breath and running out of options.

Thanks to a new, more minimally-invasive procedure, UCLA  cardiologists and heart surgeons successfully replaced Carolyn's aortic valve. The procedure did not require a chest incision or a heart-bypass machine, so fewer surgical risks were involved.  On Aug. 9, 2012 Carolyn became the first patient at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to receive Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), a procedure currently performed only at a handful of hospitals across the country.

The new, man-made valve is delivered via a catheter - a long tube that is advanced through the femoral artery in the groin up to the heart. However, in Carolyn's case, her anatomy required a larger valve thus requiring a larger artery to be used. UCLA heart surgeons made an incision in her lower left side and utilized the iliac artery in her abdomen, which provided a perfect larger pathway for the valve. The procedure was done successfully with no complications and Carolyn was discharged just three days after the procedure.   

Now home, Carolyn is breathing much easier and her pulmonary hypertension has also improved. She still contends with other effects of the scleroderma that caused her to retire from her job as an office manager at a Monrovia elementary school. Blockages in the arteries of her legs that cause poor circulation led to her losing her  left leg in July.  With her heart and lung conditions now improved, Carolyn is looking forward to receiving a prosthetic so she can walk again. 

Known for her positive attitude and upbeat spirit, she's excited to celebrate her birthday and to be able to play again with her three small grandchildren.  She also hopes to camp again with her husband of 43 years, an activity that they haven't been able to do in recent years.