VGH patient Max Morton with Dr. David Wood. Photograph by Clive Camm.
When 79-year-old Max Morton walked into Vancouver General Hospital with severe chest pain and shortness of breath, he had no way of knowing he was about to become the first patient in North America to undergo a revolutionary new procedure.
It was March 11, and Max, an energetic, community minded Richmond BC resident, was experiencing a massive failure of his aortic valve, the most important of the four valves that allow the heart to pump blood.
That same valve had been replaced in 2009, when he also had coronary artery bypass graft surgery.
Max was still awake but his blood pressure was extremely low and dropping fast. With every beat of his heart, only half of the necessary blood was being circulated.
Unfortunately, the standard method of treating someone in his situation was urgent open-heart surgery, a risky procedure for a man of his age and in his condition. Even if he survived the surgery and his coronary artery bypass grafts were not damaged, he would likely be in hospital for weeks and it would take months to fully recover.
But there was good news for Max. Vancouver General, along with St. Paul’s Hospital, is home to the world-leading team at the Centre for Heart Valve Innovation.
The hospitals are leading an international clinical trial evaluating the approach pioneered in Vancouver for minimally invasive transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) in high risk patients.
The procedure has been done hundreds of times in the two hospitals, but had never been attempted on unstable critically ill patients such as Max anywhere in North America.
The decision was made to attempt the procedure to give Max the best chance of surviving. And the gamble paid off.
A replacement valve was successfully implanted through an artery in his leg in less than 20 minutes by a highly skilled team led by Drs. David Wood, John Webb and Richard Cook.
Max was awake the entire time, and later that night was laughing with his family and joking that he was not sure he would make his fishing trip with his son the following morning.
“Yesterday likely ushered in a new era in urgent heart valve replacement in Canada,” said Dr. Wood. “This is a tremendous testament to the infrastructure we have all helped create at the Centre for Heart Valve Innovation.”