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Yuba City man thriving after heart procedure
James Cook had a bad heart and no options.
At 90, the Yuba City man was too old to have open-heart surgery, the traditional treatment for aortic valve stenosis, a disease that was choking off blood flow from his heart to the rest of the body.
"It's not easy having your chest bone sawed and opened up," said Cook, a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Air Force who also worked on the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane as a Lockheed Martin employee. Cook had his sternum cracked in 1993 to undergo a quintuple bypass.
Now there's another option, and Cook was the first patient in the Sacramento region to benefit from transcatheter aortic valve replacement. The U.C. Davis Medical Center is touting the procedure as a less-invasive way to treat stenosis in older patients who would otherwise die as soon as a year after the stenosis cropped up.
Older stenosis patients like Cook have other serious medical conditions that complicate treatment, said Jeff Southard, assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at the UCD Medical Center. When a lot of red flags shoot up, doctors hesitate.
"No surgeon really wanted to take those patients back to the operating room because of the risk," Southard said. "We didn't have a lot to offer them."
Cook found out about the stenosis when his hip gave out, forcing him to give up the three-mile walk he used to log before breakfast every day. He went to his doctor to figure out how he could replace it. They discovered the stenosis and said he'd have to clear that up before any hip surgery.
So Cook worked with UCD Medical Center to repair the valve, even after he had been disqualified from open-heart surgery.
Southard cut Cook's groin on Feb. 27 so he could move a tightly compressed, artificial valve through Cook's femoral artery until it was positioned inside the diseased heart valve. Southard then expanded a balloon and deployed the artificial valve, which took over work from the bad valve.
Patients like Cook are ready to walk around within a few days instead of the weeks of recovery required with open-heart surgery.
"They're itching to get out by that third day, so they can get on with their lives," Southard said.
Cook plans to do just that. In fact, he felt good enough to make a little investment. Cook said he was so impressed with the design of the artificial valve that is keeping him healthy that he bought 100 shares of the company that makes it.
And aside from a little soreness in his groin, he is feeling good. Now he's got his heart set on a new hip, which doctors said he can get in about six weeks.
Then it's back to walking.
CONTACT reporter Jonathan Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4780. Find him on Facebook at /ADjedwards or on Twitter at @ADjedwards.