FORT WORTH, Texas — Rubbing elbows with Hall of Famers Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby and Satchel Paige — some of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball — seems like a dream come true for any baseball player, but to win the 1948 World Series is even better. William Eddie Robinson did both, but his legendary life was jeopardized by heart valve disease — an illness that takes the lives of nearly 25,000 Americans each year. But Robinson beat the statistics — he underwent a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.
“For patients like Mr. Robinson, who suffer from heart valve disease, the key to a successful TAVR procedure hinges upon a cohesive and committed team approach,” said Stella Lisk, Texas Health Fort Worth’s Cardiovascular Services program coordinator. “Since 2015, more than 220 TAVR procedures have been done at Texas Health Fort Worth, and each case involved interventional cardiologists, non-invasive cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons on the medical staff playing critical roles in the valve replacement procedure and a wide range of caregivers supporting patients’ recovery along the way.”
Aortic valve stenosis, the kind Robinson suffers from, is a specific type of heart valve disease in which the aortic valve inside the heart doesn’t open fully, preventing proper blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. This makes the heart work even harder to pump blood and leads to the heart muscles thickening.
Open-heart surgery and TAVR are two treatments for aortic stenosis, but they differ significantly.
Open-heart valve replacement requires the surgeon to make an incision in the chest to access the deteriorating heart valve. Patients are put under anesthesia and are asleep during the entire surgery, and they are connected to a heart-lung machine which replaces the work of the lungs, along with the heart’s pumping action that provides oxygen to the blood.
With TAVR, a catheter is inserted through an artery in the upper leg. The cardiologist and cardiovascular surgeon then guide the catheter to the heart. The new valve, which is located on the tip of the catheter wire, is inflated, the catheter then removed, and the implant begins regulating blood flow to the heart. Minimal anesthesia is used (patients are usually awake), and a machine is not necessary to keep the heart and lungs functioning during the procedure.
There’s unfortunately no way to prevent aortic stenosis, said Carlos Macias, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon on the Texas Health Fort Worth medical staff.
“It’s kind of like an old door in your home. The valve opens and closes every time your heart beats, and over the years, it eventually wears out,” he said.
“When the valve calcifies, or becomes thick and stiff with calcium build up, it can negatively impact someone’s daily activities,” said Sukesh Burjonroppa, M.D., an interventional cardiologist on the Texas Health Fort Worth medical staff and chairperson of Texas Health Fort Worth’s TAVR program. “If severe aortic stenosis goes untreated, patients can die from heart failure in less than two years.”
Some patients suffer from the common symptoms: chest pain, dizziness, palpitations and shallow breathing. Others, including Robinson, have no symptoms at all.
“One of the physicians said I was the oldest patient he’d performed the procedure on, and I said, ‘Well, lucky me, I guess’,” Robinson said. Since his procedure, Robinson said he has the regular aches and pains of any 99-year old, but he feels good.
Normally geared toward patients 80 years and older who wouldn’t survive open-heart surgery because of poor health, TAVR is now also helping younger, healthier patients. Medical experts estimate more than 75 percent of aortic valve replacements will be done using TAVR by 2025.
“When Texas Health Fort Worth first offered the procedure in 2015, it was only for high and extreme-risk patients for open-heart surgery,” Burjonroppa said. “But with the evolution of technology and clinical research, TAVR has become the treatment of choice even for intermediate and low-risk patients.”
“I never had heart problems until I turned 97, when my valves began calcifying,” Robinson said. “I wasn’t in any pain and no shortness of breath. But had I not kept my regularly scheduled appointments, it could have been a different story.”
And Robinson’s story is noteworthy.
Born in Paris, Texas, his Major League Baseball career began in 1942 with the Cleveland Indians. During that same year, Robinson joined the Navy during World War II. Three years later, he returned to his true passion — professional baseball. Robinson’s baseball career spans more than six decades — from player, to scout, even to general manager for the Texas Rangers — but his proudest achievement of all has nothing to do with fanfare.
“Out of my entire career, my family is most important. They give me joy,” Robinson said. “Thankfully, I’m still around, spending time with them and enjoying life as much as I can.”
Along with Texas Health Fort Worth, the TAVR procedure is also offered at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and Texas Health Heart & Vascular Hospital Arlington. Follow this link to learn more about comprehensive heart and vascular services at Texas Health.
About Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources is a faith-based, nonprofit health system that cares for more patients in North Texas than any other provider. With a service area that consists of 16 counties and more than 7 million people, the system is committed to providing quality, coordinated care through its Texas Health Physicians Group and 29 hospital locations under the banners of Texas Health Presbyterian, Texas Health Arlington Memorial, Texas Health Harris Methodist and Texas Health Huguley. Texas Health access points and services, ranging from acute-care hospitals and trauma centers to outpatient facilities and home health and preventive services, provide the full continuum of care for all stages of life. The system has more than 4,100 licensed hospital beds, 6,400 physicians with active staff privileges and more than 26,000 employees. For more information about Texas Health, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit www.TexasHealth.org.