Terri Lohmeyer now has a sparkle in her eye.
There haven’t been many sparks in recent years, apart from the birth of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That’s because the 65-year-old Hutchinson wife with multiple heart conditions was dying.
Doctors, even until mid-November, did not give him long to live. But an operation changed that.
Only a few organizations in the world have been cleared to use the new device that Lohmeyer has now lodged in her heart, and she is the first person with her diagnosis to receive it, doctors said.
Prior to the Nov. 16 operation at Ascension Via Christi, Lohmeyer could do nothing without help. Taking a few steps required several minutes of recovery and oxygen. If she couldn’t get approval for surgery, the next plan was palliative care.
But now she’s making plans for the holidays and beyond. She said it was a miracle.
“Birthday and Christmas, everything is completely new now,” she said on the eve of Thanksgiving, when she was considering rejoining her family for the first time in years. “When they operated on me, they gave me an extra life.”
Lohmeyer’s mitral valve was both leaky (mitral valve regurgitation) and too narrow (mitral stenosis). According to Brett Grizzell, cardiothoracic surgeon at Wichita Surgical Specialists, the problem with the mitral valve is usually that it’s too loose.
Grizzell and a team of other doctors oversaw Lohmeyer’s surgery and care.
The rare combination of diagnoses led Lohmeyer to turn away from further trials.
And the life-saving operation only took place after doctors sought and received special permission from the Food and Drug Administration under its compassionate use policy. The policy allows people with life-threatening diseases and conditions to use drugs and devices that are not yet publicly available.
Declining health and lawsuit
The St. Francis Structural Heart team has been involved in trials with medical device company Abbott Laboratories for a few years. The success of these trials led to the team being selected by Abbott earlier this year to participate in a trial for a novel transcatheter mitral valve replacement.
The other organizations selected are in New York, Los Angeles and Europe, according to cardiologist Aziz Maksoud.
Technology and devices for the aortic valve have been developing for 15 years, but it’s only in the past two years that the industry has started to develop devices for the mitral valve, Grizzell said.
Lohmeyer’s health had been declining for several years.
Lohmeyer, who had worked for several years at a Hutchinson organization that helps people with disabilities, became disabled in 2008 with degenerative disc disease.
About five years ago, her health began to deteriorate further, leaving her constantly on oxygen.
She had known about the mitral valve leak for years, but discovered the additional mitral valve problem earlier this year. A few months ago, her doctor referred her to interventional cardiologist Bassem Chehab in Wichita.
Doctors knew that cutting-edge surgery was his best bet.
Perform surgery on 3D copies
The team performed other mitral valve surgeries with Abbott devices. It was a newer device that was supposed to be even less invasive than those of the past.
To complicate matters, this device was designed for the leaky valve problem, which solved part of Lohmeyer’s problem. She also had the problem of the narrow mitral valve.
The surgery uses a catheter to pass through the groin and back up to the heart. Typically, this is a replacement valve that is passed through the catheter and into the heart, then a balloon is expanded to press the valve into place, according to the Mayo Clinic. The surgery leaves about a half-inch scar.
Lohmeyer’s conditions led doctors to propose a modification. They put the valve in, inflated the balloon, and cracked the valve to keep it in place and help the heart work better.
“When you’re doing things at the cutting edge of technology, you’re essentially contributing to the knowledge base that you’ll read in a textbook 20 years later,” Grizzell said. “It’s a new frontier with no history or direction…and that’s why this type of study and process is so special. We are changing the way medicine is practiced for the next 50 years.
Doctors began performing the procedure on 3D models of Lohmeyer’s heart a few weeks before the procedure. They also held training sessions with Abbott engineers in the days leading up to the operation.
The FDA received the application for use of the device on November 14 and approved it the next day. Doctors ordered Lohmeyer’s operation for the next day.
The procedure should generally take 30 minutes. Due to Lohmeyer’s conditions, her procedure took an hour.
Lohmeyer said she was glad her case could help others.
“I feel honoured,” she said, crying. ” I’m very grateful. I am happy to be able to help other people. I’m glad it worked for me so far.
Plan the vacation
Lohmeyer woke up feeling like a different person. She walked around the recovery area able to breathe without oxygen.
She was released on Monday. She is staying with her daughter, Alisha Mayberry, until she recovers.
“I think it’s great that she…has a chance for a better life,” Mayberry said, adding that she was happy for her mother’s extended time with their family. “We have a very loving, close-knit family and for her to be able to be a part of it physically, mentally, it’s great…the new chance is so hopeful.”
Lohmeyer has some limitations due to surgery. For now, she can’t run or drive.
“But after that, watch out, I’m on fire,” she said. “I’m on fire.”
She plans to attend her great-grandchildren’s sporting events and go on other outings. She said there was a twinkle in her eye, a twinkle that nursing staff first pointed out to her when she woke up recovering.
“(The staff) said I had a sparkle in my eye,” Lohmeyer said. “You know the last time I had a twinkle in my eye?” I certainly don’t know.
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