Local WWII veteran and another man get groundbreaking heart valve replacement procedure


AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A new, heart valve replacement procedure is changing lives all over the world. Here in the CSRA, a World War II veteran and another man both have experienced this medical breakthrough.

For Willie Nelson of Evans, his blue eyes are not crying in the rain. The 93-year-old, World War II veteran walks just about every morning and with the new heart valve procedure, he’s not slowing down anytime soon.

“It’s been revolutionary in the way to treat people with heart disease,” said Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Richard Lee.

Nelson claimed, “It worked good so I’m going strong right now.”

In the world today, it seems medical breakthroughs happen every day. People with heart disease can get the new heart valve replacement procedure at Augusta University Medical Center.

“When it’s popped in it starts working and another one is a balloon expandable valve and it’s mounted on a balloon and the balloon is blown up and it puts that in place,” said Medical Director of Structural Heart Dr. Kimberly Atianzar.

Dr. Lee explained, “Our patient had a tight out valve so this out valve here stopped opening. The heart was squeezing but the blood wasn’t going so it causes the heart to fail.”

“I don’t know how much longer I’ll last I’m 93,” added Nelson.

Dr. Lee said, “93-years-old. 93! Someone I’m sure I wouldn’t want to operate on and when I’m 93, I’m sure I don’t want open surgery but he had a tight out valve that was going to be the end of his life.”

With the new valve replacement procedure, neither the body is cut open nor is the heart stopped. Rather a small incision is made into a patient’s veins. Chris Lawrence of North Augusta had the procedure done too.

“What we’ve noticed is that he’s a lot more energetic. He gets up quicker. He’s not as short of breath and he even thinks clearer,” explained Barbara Miles.

Dr. Lee said, “It sounds radical and crazy because it is but it’s the biggest advance I’ve seen in my entire career so far.”

Recovery after the procedure lasts about a day.

“We don’t initiate or put anyone under general anesthesia. They’re under what we call moderate sedation,” said Dr. Atianzar.

Since the procedure, both Lawrence and Nelson feel better than ever.

“This new procedure, we just felt like all of our prayers have been answered,” said Miles.

To learn more about the procedure, click or tap here.

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