Living in the foothills of South Dakota’s beautiful Black Hills, Dennis Hudson and his wife Carole love to jump in their 1960 Thunderbird convertible or take the top off their Jeep and head for the hills to hike. As the summer of 2018 approaches, their excitement about being able to do so again has never been higher, thanks to a recent valve replacement procedure that saved Dennis’ life.
On Oct. 25, 2017, the day after his 72nd birthday, Dennis underwent a transcatheter mitral valve replacement as part of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF)’s research on the investigational Tendyne Mitral Valve System. MHIF research physicians were the first in the United States to implant the system in 2015 and Dennis became the 16th patient in MHIF’s study. Prior to the procedure, Dennis’ health had deteriorated so much that he felt he likely wouldn’t live much longer, let alone ever enjoy hiking with his wife again.
“I was pretty close to being dead,” said Dennis, “so it was definitely a good birthday present. It’s worked so well for me that it’s almost unreal. I owe a big thank you to Dr. Sorajja and his staff; they have given me a new lease on life.”
Dennis suffered from severe mitral valve regurgitation, a condition in which the heart valve does not close tightly enough and causes blood to “leak” back into the heart chambers instead of flowing forward through the heart or into an artery. There are more than 4.1 million people with leaky mitral valves in the U.S. and 1.67 million who need life-saving treatment.
In Dennis’ case, about 60 percent of his blood was leaking back into his heart and his condition kept getting progressively worse. By the summer of 2017, he wasn’t really able to go anywhere or do anything; he estimated he spent 55-60 days in the hospital that year. His legs were swollen, he couldn’t sleep or walk to the bathroom, and he needed his wife’s help to get dressed.
Thankfully, doctors determined that Dennis was a candidate for the transcatheter mitral valve procedure, as it was really his only treatment option. Due to his poor health and the fact that he had triple bypass heart surgery in 2012, doctors considered it too risky for him to undergo another open heart surgery to repair his valve. Dennis and Carole traveled 640 miles to the world-renowned Minneapolis Heart Institute® at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, where Dr. Paul Sorajja, MHIF Researcher and Director of MHIFs Center for Valve and Structural Heart Disease, performed the transcatheter procedure. It involves making a small incision in the chest, then inserting a catheter that enters the bottom of the heart and travels into the left ventricle to position the replacement bioprosthetic valve within the natural mitral valve.
Within just a couple days of surgery, Dennis was already feeling better, and six months later he said he sleeps well, feels good, and that his balance and strength have been slowly coming back. He’s regained his appetite and some needed weight, too. Prior to getting his new heart valve, he couldn’t walk for even a minute without having to stop, but he and Carole now try to walk 1-1/2 to 2 miles every day.
“I can walk 30 minutes now and I’m still going, and to me that’s a pretty good improvement,” he said. “It’s just been uphill all the way … I feel much better now than I did even three years ago.”
Asked about his experience being part of an investigational research study, Dennis said, “Honestly, I told the doctors, ‘If something happens and I don’t make it through the procedure, but they learn something that can help treat and save other people, it’s worth it. And if it does help me, it’ll be the best thing in the world.”
As Dennis continues on his journey to better health, his heart is full of gratitude.
“I have nothing but good words to say about the people at Abbott Northwestern Hospital,” he said. “They kept in touch with my primary doctor or his nurse in Sturgis often and kept them informed about my progress. I am thankful for my cardiologists here in Rapid City, too. And I really need to thank my wife Carole, my best friend. Without her, I know I wouldn’t have made it.”