Washington University heart specialists are celebrating the successful completion of an experimental procedure giving an elderly woman a new heart valve. 78-year-old Mary Ann Cahalin of Florissant is the first patient in this part of the country to receive the device, which replaced her defective aortic valve without opening the chest wall or using a heart-lung machine.

Leading the team was Doctor John Lasala, Professor of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis and Medical Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.  "This entire procedure," says Doctor Lasala, "Is now done via a tube in the leg, not too dissimilar from the way people would have a stent placed in the arteries around the heart. This is a much larger tube, and it’s not going to the arteries, it’s going across the valve into the ventricle or the pumping chamber of the heart."

Doctor Lasala says once the procedure is completed, the patient can be up and talking an hour or so later. This is quite a contrast to open-heart surgery in which recovery periods can be very lengthy.

Mrs. Cahalin, who had undergone by-pass surgery nine years ago, was chosen from among a group of individuals who required treatment but who were not good candidates for the standard open-heart surgery. This experimental procedure was the right remedy at the right time for her. "I would not have been here too long a time for the way my whole general condition was deteriorating," says Mrs. Cahalin.  "I would have been on medication," she continues, "And probably in a wheelchair and just sitting there huffing and puffing."

Now, Mrs. Cahalin will be monitored by doctors keeping track of her progress.  "They’ll follow me for five years or longer."

Experimentation involving this procedure began in France in 2002, and has since spread to Canada and a number of other areas of the United States.  Doctor Lasala expects another year of experimental procedures, followed by a year to review the data, and believes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could approve this treatment in about three years.

Download/Listen: Steve Walsh interviews Doctor John Lasala (11:00 MP3)
Download/Listen: Steve Walsh interviews Mary Ann Cahalin (10:00 MP3)