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Northwestern doctors, patients celebrate heart valve procedure

Dominic and Rose Sartino met other heart-valve replacement patients Thursday. | Natalie Watts/Sun-Times

Dominic Sartino’s failing heart valve meant he struggled to walk around the block.

That’s not a problem anymore. “Instead of one block, I walk two blocks — that’s how great I feel,” the Chicago man said of undergoing an transcatheter aortic valve replacement in November.

He was “a walking time bomb,” said his wife, Rose.

She said the 89-year-old was out of the hospital in three days.

Northwestern Medicine’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute celebrated the success of its new heart valve replacement technology at a luncheon for Sartino and over 50 others who underwent the procedure.

Unlike traditional open heart surgery, the transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure is minimally invasive and has a lower risk of death or stroke, said Dr. Charles Davidson, a cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

The replacement valve is attached to the end of a tube and enters the body through an incision in the groin, Davidson said. The procedure takes between one and three hours and is approved for use with high- and intermediate-risk patients.

“I recovered within a week,” said Marilynn Lovell of Lake Forest, who underwent the surgery in late July. “I would still be recuperating if open heart surgery was done.”

“I have a second lease on life,” said the 86-year-old, the wife of Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell. She said she is no longer “huffing and puffing” and can enjoy her grandchildren.

Dr. Mark Ricciardi said 90 percent of patients do not require general anesthesia, which helps speed up recovery.

“Now that the engine’s working better,” Ricciardi said, cardiac rehabilitation is “strongly encouraged [to help patients] get their legs back.”

Sartino attends cardiac rehabilitation three times a week. “It’s the best exercise in my life,” he said, rivaled only by “running after my wife.”

Northwestern’s cardiology department has begun similar trials with the heart’s tricuspid and mitral valves.