Open-heart surgery is one way surgeons can reach the heart to treat heart problems. It’s a major surgical procedure, but one that can also be life-saving. That’s why Pavlos Papathanasiou was on board for the surgery when he received the news that he had coronary artery disease and a narrowing aortic valve. Then the reality of the situation set in.
It wasn’t that Pavlos didn’t trust the cardiologist he first met with, but his health and his quality of life were at stake. The 83-year-old was told the recovery and rehabilitation after undergoing a recommended off-pump coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) might take a full year, not to mention his advanced age put him at a higher surgical risk. It was a lot to consider.
With just one day to go before the scheduled procedure, Pavlos made the decision to pump on the brake. He cancelled the surgery so he could explore all his treatment options. And when it comes to matters of the heart, there are often alternatives to open-heart surgery.
“Having worked in the health care field, I knew there could be lots of problems in recovery from open-heart surgery,” Pavlos says. “I also knew I needed to see if there were any overlooked possibilities that could be better suited to my situation.”
The Value of Collaboration and Innovation
It just so happened that a conversation in passing at a ballet recital between Pavlos’ adult daughter and the wife of a cardiothoracic surgeon would help change the course of Pavlos’ heart-health journey. It began with mention of the 83-year-old’s surgery being put on hold. This prompted the wife to say something to her husband, a physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. The specialist then brought the case to the attention of interventional cardiologist James B. Park, M.D., Chair of Cardiology and Medical Director of the Structural Heart Program at Texas Health Dallas. Dr. Park is on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas and is a physician with Texas Health Heart and Vascular Specialists, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. A referral was made for Pavlos to meet with Park to confirm the initial diagnosis and allow for a new perspective.
Through a collaborative effort at Texas Health Dallas, Park and the group of physician specialists on the medical staff reviewing Pavlos’ case proposed a very different approach to care.
“With the devices and techniques available for high-risk heart patients, we felt Mr. Papathanasiou could be treated without open-heart surgery,” Park explains. “Thanks to medical advancements, many procedures that once required opening the chest can now take place using minimally invasive techniques or small incisions to access the heart and surrounding arteries.” Learn more about several of these minimally invasive procedures here.
Pavlos was on board with the new treatment plan, this time trusting in a less invasive procedure. “Dr. Park is an amazing man. I trusted him because I knew he largely cares for the older population and provides treatment options that use less anesthesia.”
Park performed two percutaneous, or non-surgical, coronary interventions (PCIs) to first address Pavlos’ three diseased arteries and then repair his narrowing aortic valve. A small heart pump was used to help maintain blood flow during the initial part of the treatment to support the heart while fixing Pavlos’ clogged arteries. A device designed to remove plaque at a high speed with minimal damage to the vessel was then used to shave off the calcified plaque in the arteries.
“Not everyone uses the heart pump and drill, but they are a good combination for high-risk patients,” Park explains. “The approach is very technique-driven and useful under the right circumstances to open arteries.”
During the second procedure, a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) was performed to replace Pavlos’ damaged valve without removing his old one.
Ready for New Journeys
Pavlos’ first procedure was performed in June of 2022. He was home from the hospital the next day, and ready for his second procedure less than a month later. He was again able to go home after staying just one night in the hospital. Thanks to minimal downtime and a great overall outcome, the 83-year-old fulfilled his dream of returning to his native Greece in October 2022 to walk along the seashore and visit with family and friends.
Pavlos says he is happy to share his story whenever possible and he stays in touch with Park as often as he can (even beyond the doctor’s office).In fact, Pavlos’ story has been shared at a national heart and vascular convention, and he recently spoke to a group of physicians at a medical conference at Texas Health Dallas. He also now refers his family and friends who need heart and vascular care to Park and Texas Health Dallas.
“Mr. Papathanasiou’s story is a great testament to the power of community and what is possible when there is connectivity and collaboration between everyone — from the patient taking control of their own health to the health care providers expertly honing the appropriate treatment to those who continue to advance the practice of cardiovascular medicine,” Park adds.
Mr. Papathanasiou shared his story, alongside his daughter Paula, at a recent medical conference at Texas Health Dallas.