Upstate doctor and patient describe less invasive heart valve procedure


GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – “I’d been outside cutting grass and passed out,” said Upstate resident Doris Belcher.

Belcher was describing how she discovered she had an aortic valve problem. She went to the doctor and learned she had aortic stenosis, which is the narrowing of the aortic valve.   

Bon Secours St. Francis Health physician Dr. Mark Grabarczyk, an Interventional Cardiologist, said aortic stenosis is something that can happen with age. It meant not enough blood was getting pumped out of Belcher’s heart.

Dr. Grabarczyk said, “Traditionally, we would have fixed that with an open surgical procedure which would be through the sternum, so a traditional open-heart procedure.” 

Belcher was worried when she thought she needed open-heart surgery. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness cutting your chest open,’ and first told them I’d take my chances and go on when the good Lord got ready for me,” she said.    

Dr. Grabarczyk explained that there was a less invasive procedure available, called Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement or TAVR.  Belcher opted to have this done.  

“We don’t use general anesthesia, so [the patient doesn’t] have the tube down their throat. We just sedate them, like with a colonoscopy. We insert the tubes through the femoral artery,” Dr. Grabarczyk said.  In other words, the tube is inserted through the patient’s groin, in order to reach the heart, where doctors place a new aortic valve.

Dr. Grabarczyk said with TAVR, patients will leave the hospital sooner, in only one or two days. With open-heart surgery, he said the recovery period includes five or six days in the hospital plus time in a rehabilitation center. 

“People who you traditionally wouldn’t think about doing anything to, we’ve done 96-year-olds, who have done fabulous with TAVR,” said Dr. Grabarczyk. He continued, “Patients can get back to life real quickly, and I think that for them, that’s just exciting.”  

Belcher described her experience with the procedure. “I did wonderful and recovered, and a few weeks later, was cutting grass again. And everybody said I was trying to kill myself, but I wasn’t, I really felt that much better and stronger,” she said.  

For more information on TAVR, visit:  

For more information about how to stay healthy, tune in to hear the experts at Bon Secours on Saturday at 10 a.m. on 106.3 WORD radio.  

To submit a question to the Ask the Expert series, visit: 

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