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One Year Later : First Patient

One Year Later: UCLA’s First Patient to Receive New Heart Procedure Celebrates a Better Life

Carolyn Starbird, age 63, celebrates her one-year anniversary of receiving a new, minimally-invasive heart procedure to replace her failing aortic valve that was riddled with calcium deposits, making it harder for the heart to push blood through the aorta. Her valve is now opening four times better than before the procedure. This has greatly increased blood flow and circulation that has helped with issues related to scleroderma, a disease that Carolyn has been fighting for years that causes a build-up of collagen that can affect the skin and internal organs such as the heart. Painful wounds on her right leg have cleared up due to the improved circulation and she’s also not as cold any more with better blood flow to her extremities.

Not a candidate for traditional heart valve replacement surgery, Carolyn had very few options last year when the function of her aortic valve worsened. A UCLA team of cardiologists and surgeons performed a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) procedure last August that did not require a chest incision or a heart-bypass machine, so fewer surgical risks were involved. To date, the UCLA team has performed the procedure with 21 patients with excellent outcomes.

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) first patient, one year later. UCLA Cardiologists, heart surgeons and staff.

Patient Carolyn Starbird (seated) and members of the UCLA team at an Aug. 5, 2013 follow-up clinic visit, one year after the patient's transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Standing from left to right: Mary Miller,NP; Dr. William Suh; Dr. Jonathan Tobis; Rachel Champeau; Johanna Bruner,RN; Dr. Gabe Vorobiof and Dr. Murray Kwon. Dr. Richard Shemin, chief of cardiovascular surgery at UCLA, an essential member of the team, was not available for the photo.

Carolyn noted that before the TAVR procedure, when she would hear her heart skipping around, she would start to wonder if she was going to live long enough to see her grandchildren graduate from school. She has always tried to be upbeat and now has even a better outlook on life: “It’s so much easier to have a better psyche when you know that your next breath is not going to be your last.”

Her husband Jim and two-year old granddaughter Colette accompanied Carolyn to her one-year follow-up visit at UCLA on Aug. 5, 2013. Jim said that his wife’s quality of life is better now than it has been in years. With increased mobility, Carolyn has enjoyed a greatly anticipated camping trip – it had been years since the couple could pursue this favorite activity. In addition, they attended a wedding in Atlanta, Georgia, and cruised down the St. Lawrence River. They are planning their next adventure to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, and plan to celebrate Carolyn’s 64th birthday on August 18.

For more information about the TAVR procedure, please contact (310) 825-9011 or email the TAVR coordinator at TAVR@mednet.ucla.edu