Health

The heartbeat of progress: St. Luke's new heart procedure first of its kind in Cedar Rapids

UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital

Denice Mcquiston, 51, was the recipient of the first minimally invasive mitral valve repair surgery in Cedar Rapids on Feb. 15.
UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital Denice Mcquiston, 51, was the recipient of the first minimally invasive mitral valve repair surgery in Cedar Rapids on Feb. 15.
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Denice Mcquiston really did not want a scar.

Eating healthy and exercising has been a priority for her. She bikes up to 28 miles on a good day and participates in the summertime group rides every Thursday evening in the NewBo District.

But when Mcquiston’s active lifestyle was put on hold several months ago when symptoms of her heart complication manifested, she dreaded the thought of open heart surgery. The 51-year-old Cedar Rapids resident said she didn’t want a surgery scar on her chest, which she felt would indicate she hadn’t maintained a healthy lifestyle.

So when the opportunity to avoid open heart surgery presented itself, Mcquiston jumped at the chance — and became the first patient to do so within city limits.

About two months ago, a cardiology team at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s performed the first ever minimally invasive mitral valve repair surgery in Cedar Rapids.

The mitral valve is the entrance door to the main pumping chamber of the heart, said Dr. Richard Kettelkamp, an interventional and structural cardiologist at UnityPoint Health — Cardiology.

And when that valve is narrowed — like Mcquiston’s was — it blocks blood flow into the main chamber.

Previously, surgery for repairing a heart’s mitral valve — called a mitral valve commissurotomy — would have required a large incision and sawing open of the patient’s breastbone.

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What was new for Mcquiston’s procedure was that it was minimally invasive, meaning it was performed through a small incision in the upper leg.

Kettelkamp, who performed the procedure with fellow cardiologist Dr. Georges Hajj, said the method is less invasive and safer than open heart surgery. The bigger the surgery, “the larger the risk is for other things happening to (that) you don’t want to have happen,” he said.

In addition, “it’s considerably easier to recover from,” Kettelkamp said.

Kettelkamp said mitral valve stenosis is typically caused by a bout of rheumatic fever when the patient was a young child, which is what happened to Mcquiston.

For her, the condition meant an extreme shortness of breath. She said she began to feel it at the end of August, during the Thursday night meetups at NewBo.

“By the end of the season last year, I couldn’t take a deep breath,” she said. “I couldn’t breathe.”

Soon, Mcquiston said she couldn’t go up a flight of stairs without difficulty inhaling. When she laid down flat on her back, it felt like she couldn’t draw a breath at all.

Mcquiston had previously dealt with the mitral valve stenosis that required the same minimally invasive procedure, which was done in September 2012 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. So when she felt the same symptoms, she knew something was wrong.

While it was a somewhat nerve-racking to be the first patient to receive the procedure in Cedar Rapids, she said the relief to breathe normally again is wonderful.

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“I take deep breaths still, just to make sure,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling and I’m so glad I did it.”

The mitral valve commissurotomy is the seventh new procedure in the past two years offered at St. Luke’s through the UnityPoint Health — Cedar Rapids Heart and Vascular Institute.

Formed in April 2015 when specialists from UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital joined those at Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa, a goal of the institute was to offer clinical trials, new research and new technology to improve cardiovascular care.

“This is kind of new frontier for interventional cardiology,” Kettelkamp said.

Mcquiston will need to have the mitral valve in her heart replaced sometime within the next 10 years, but she’s still firm that she does not want a scar from an open heart surgery. Mcquiston said she’s hoping new technology will exist by the time she needs the procedure, “even if I’m the first to have that done.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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