After 2 open-heart surgeries, a new procedure helps a Gig Harbor man avoid a third

Many of us would consider open-heart surgery a once-in-a-lifetime event, but at 50, Marv Johnson had already undergone 2 open-heart surgeries. And, in early 2019, he was facing the prospect of a third.

Johnson was born with a malformed aortic valve. Instead of 3 flaps that join together to close and keep blood from flowing in the wrong direction, Johnson had only 2. His Kaiser Permanente doctors had been keeping an eye on it since he was born.

Open-heart surgery – twice

When Johnson was 30, doctors discovered his aortic valve was failing and needed to be replaced. His only option: full open-heart surgery. He spent 2 weeks in the hospital and several months regaining his strength.

Doctors told Johnson the replacement valve would last 10 to 15 years at most. So, it wasn’t a surprise when, 8 years later, Johnson again needed open-heart surgery to replace it. This time the procedure was more complicated. “The doctors had to undo everything they’d done before,” Johnson says.

During open-heart surgery, surgeons cut through a patient’s breastbone to access the heart. When they’re finished, they “sew” the breastbone back together using wire. Johnson’s second open-heart surgery took 14 hours and he spent a week in the hospital.

A decade later, that second replacement valve began to wear out, but this time, Johnson knew there were new, less invasive alternatives — including a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). The team at the Structural Heart Program, a collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, confirmed TAVR was a good option for Johnson, even though he was a full 30 years younger than a typical TAVR patient.

The Structural Heart Program team — which includes interventional and imaging cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and anesthesiologists, and advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNP) — performs minimally invasive procedures such as TAVR.

Patients undergo preoperative diagnostic testing and meet with the interventional cardiologist and surgeon— all in one place, during one visit. For Johnson, who traveled to Bellevue from Gig Harbor, that was a huge convenience.

The team of providers gathers to review cases and develop treatment plans. Then they work side-by-side in a specially designed procedure room that combines a heart surgery suite and a catherization lab.

“I have a little girl with Down syndrome,” Johnson says. “She’s my whole life. When I’m not working, I’m taking her to therapies and volunteering at her school. I told the team I’d do whatever they told me to do — I just needed to get back to health.”

How the TAVR procedure works

In April 2019, Kaiser Permanente interventional cardiologist Scott Haugen, MD, along with Overlake cardiac surgeon Scott Louis, MD, replaced Johnson’s aortic valve in a minimally invasive, catheter-based procedure — with Johnson under only light sedation. The entire procedure took about 60 minutes and Johnson was awake throughout.

“The TAVR procedure is amazing,” Johnson said. “I felt better immediately. I was overwhelmed with emotion. It really was miraculous.”

He spent just one night in the hospital and was back at work — with few restrictions — a couple days later.

“My family means everything to me,” Johnson says. “I want to be around as long as I can for them. I’m so thankful to Dr. Haugen and the team at the Structural Heart Clinic. They gave me my life back.”

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