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Healthwatch 16: TAVR Heart Procedure

JESSUP -- A heart problem that used to require open-heart surgery no longer does, and that has one man from Lackawanna County back at the bowling alley again.

If you frequent Chacko's Family Bowling Center in Wilkes-Barre, you've probably seen Carmen Vinciguerra. The 76-year-old man from Jessup loves to bowl.

He also happens to work at Chacko's. He's the guy behind the pins.

"I'm a mechanic on the automatic bowling machines and the automatic scoring systems," Vinciguerra explained.

But he started getting worried when he couldn't catch his breath.

"When I 'd walk from the back of the machines, when I'd come up for a coffee or a soda, I couldn't breathe. I'd have to sit down."

Carmen was eventually diagnosed with aortic stenosis. The aorta is the main artery that carries blood from the heart. Carmen's had narrowed significantly, which decreased blood flow.

It was Dr. Kishore Harjai's job to fix it. He's medical director of structural heart intervention with Geisinger Northeast.

In the past, that would have meant open-heart surgery, something that wasn't an option for Carmen.

Dr. Harjai, along with patient coordinator Bonnie, planned and then performed a relatively new procedure called a TAVR, or transcatheter aortic valve replacement.

"Some of the oldest people we've operated on are well into their 90s, 100 years old, and it would have been unimaginable for those patients to have open-heart surgery," Dr. Harjai said.

Dr. Harjai explains a TAVR is when a valve is threaded through the artery via catheter, put into place, and then expanded to increase blood flow.

He showed us an ultrasound of an actual heart on which TAVR was done. This heart is now working normally.

And so is Carmen's.

He says his procedure was done on a Monday, he was home by Wednesday, and back at the bowling alley in no time.

"That was my main object. First thing I asked the doctor is, 'doc, how soon can I bowl after?'"

Carmen says he was the 54th person to have a valve fixed by TAVR.

So far about 200 have been done at Geisinger's northeast hospitals and 600 system-wide.