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Patients with On-X heart valves now safe taking lower dose of meds

Posted on Sep. 30, 2015 ( comments)
Sue Leonard On-X Valves

Sue Leonard overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. Leonard is grateful she can continue her travels after having heart valve replacement surgery at Tacoma General Hospital.

For Sue Leonard, a retired bank auditor from Tacoma, an infected heart valve meant valve replacement surgery was vital.

“If I hadn’t had it, I would have died,” she says.

Leonard, 59 at the time, discovered her aortic heart valve was deformed at birth, so even without the infection, she would have had to eventually replace the valve.

Aortic heart valve replacement

Aortic heart valve replacement is the most common type of valve replacement in the United States, says Janey Barnhart, a research nurse for the MultiCare Institute of Research and Innovation (MIRI).

Congenital heart defects such as Leonard’s are one reason you’d get an aortic valve replacement, Barnhart says. But other problems with the valve are simply caused by aging.

The longer you live, the more likely you may need your aortic valve replaced.

Heart valve replacement options

There are two traditional options for heart valve replacement: tissues valves and mechanical valves.

Tissue valves, which are created from human or animal donor tissue, break down over time, typically lasting 10–20 years, says Dennis Nichols, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Tacoma General Hospital.

Unfortunately, having invasive surgery to replace a tissue valve isn’t ideal, as patients in this situation are usually in their 70, 80s or even 90s.

Mechanical valves, on the other hand, are intended to last the rest of a patient’s life, never needing replacement.

However, mechanical valves do require long-term reliance on blood-thinning medication to prevent blood clots from forming.

Study at MultiCare tests reduced anticoagulation regimen

When Leonard needed her heart valve replaced, MultiCare Health System was participating in a research study to test a lower dose of blood-thinning medication for those with the On-X mechanical heart valve.

Leonard was on board, and became the eighth participant in the clinical trial. She had heart valve replacement surgery, then began a reduced blood-thinning medication regimen.

Patients who have mechanical valves have their blood monitored and medication dosage adjusted regularly, if necessary, since blood that is too thin will increase the risk of a bleed.

The plus side of the lower dosage, Barnhart says, is that it’s monitored more closely, allowing patients to connect their behavior (activity and diet) with the numbers they see via monitoring.

The On-X valve’s lower dosage requirement was approved by the FDA this April.

Since the study began in 2005, MultiCare has had 225 participants and implanted more On-X valves than any hospital in the state.

 ‘What else can you ask for?’

Leonard’s heart valve surgery was 8 years ago. Since getting the On-X valve, she’s had more energy, and noticed her hands and cheeks are rosier than before. Walking up the stairs to her third-floor apartment used to be a struggle, but now it’s a breeze.

“It would wear me out,” says Leonard, who is now 68. “Now I can bounce up and down the stairs and it’s no big deal.”

An avid traveler, Leonard is grateful she can continue taking trips around the world. She’s been to South Africa, where she went on safari; Santorini, Greece; and Venice, Italy, among others.

“If you can do that, what else can you ask for?” she says.

Interested in the On-X heart valve or other studies?

If you think you would be a good candidate for the On-X aortic heart valve, or would like to participate in other clinical trials, visit to see current studies, or call the MultiCare Institute of Research and Innovation at 253-403-7249 for more information.

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About The Author

Roxanne Cooke

Roxanne Cooke tells stories in words, photos and video. She manages VitalsKite Strings and Bring Happy Back, plus special projects such as CeCe's Journey24 Hours at Tacoma General Hospital and The Healthy Futures Project. You can reach her at [email protected]

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