Health Team

Rarely used procedure helps retired preacher's heart beat strong

Posted January 23, 2015

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— A retired preacher's failing heart is now beating strong, thanks to a rarely used procedure to replace a leaking heart valve.

Tommy Butler, 63, was born with a narrowing of the aorta above the heart, meaning his heart had to work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.

“By the time I was 8 years old, they sent me to Chapel Hill – North Carolina Memorial Hospital – where I had it repaired,” he said.

By 1988, Butler’s aortic valve began failing, so he got a new pig valve in its place. Later, he had heart bypass surgery, and by 2006, the pig valve was failing.

He had to retire as pastor of a Union County church, and his only hope was a fourth major heart surgery, but he barely survived the last one. Three hospitals said no.

Last December, Butler came to First Health Moore Regional Hospital with chest pain. Heart surgeon Dr. Peter Ellman and interventional cardiologist Dr. Steven Filby said they knew one minimally invasive option was now possible.

“It was an option that we wouldn't have had even three or four years ago,” Ellman said.

Through an incision between two ribs, Ellman created a small access point through the bottom tip of the heart. Filby then used a catheter to reach the failing valve. A balloon then expanded a new stent valve, pushing the old valve aside.

“Once the valve gets fully deployed, the balloon gets deflated and the delivery system gets withdrawn,” Filby said.

An echocardiogram showed that, before the procedure, blood was moving backward through the heart.

“After we put a valve inside his other valve, you can see that there's no more blood leaking across that valve,” Filby said.

The procedure was in December, and Butler says he's feeling great.

“I want to say that Dr. Filby and Dr. Ellman saved my life, and I want to give God the glory for healing my body,” he said. “Hopefully (it) will allow me to get back to preaching God's Word and ministering to people.”

There's not a lot of long-term research about the life of the stent valve, but Butler's doctors says it should work well for at least 10 years.

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  • Janet Scott Jan 24, 2015
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