John Unger: Cardiac Valve

For John Unger, the opportunity to participate in a clinical research study of a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) device came not a moment too soon. In fact, during the month of tests and preparation preceding his TAVR surgery, his health deteriorated, and his wife, Barb, wasn’t sure if he’d be able to hold on. So the Ungers went to their priest and prayed. “We put [John] in God’s hands,” Barb said, “and then we put him in Dr. Sorajja’s hands.”

John had learned of Dr. Paul Sorajja and the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF) Cardiac Valve Center through his cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute® clinic in Baxter, Minn. The cardiologist suggested that John drive down to meet with Dr. Sorajja, “because he was the one that would be doing some new procedure that didn’t have to open the chest.”

In their initial meeting, Dr. Sorajja explained John’s options. He could do nothing, which would mean a life expectancy of two years. He could have open heart surgery, which he had gone through before and didn’t want to have again. Or he could participate in the study and receive the new TAVR device.

After that, John said it took him about 30 seconds to decide that he wanted to participate in the study and receive the valve. And the Ungers asked Dr. Sorajja if he would be their doctor. “I would be honored,” he said. John and Barb credit Dr. Sorajja and the entire research team for helping them understand the procedure and all it entailed. “We weren’t a bit afraid,” Barb said.

John underwent the minimally-invasive valve replacement surgery in September. Just minutes after the surgery, he felt a difference. “I put my hands up and said, ‘I feel like I’m 20 again!’” he said. “I felt like I had my strength back.”

But that wasn’t the end of John’s story – or his gratitude to Dr. Sorajja. Although he was ready to go home after three days, Dr. Sorajja ordered a CT scan, as he does for all of his valve patients, even though it isn’t normally done. The Ungers are grateful that it was, though, because it showed that John had a blood clot. If John had gone home without having the clot repaired, it could have caused a stroke – or worse.

Now, John is once again living his life – spending time with his children, grand- and great-grandchildren, exercising, and riding his bike on the Paul Bunyan trail. He even bought a mountain bike with the plans of exploring the Cuyuna Range. And Barb is happy to have her husband back, especially now that he’s able to carry groceries again. “But I still can’t handle housework!” John says.

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