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      Groundbreaking heart care

      "I feel 40 years younger," says Dick Sharkey.

      It's a pretty impressive statement coming from Sharkey of Elk Rapids who just turned 80 years old. In January, he was one of the first patients who had a brand new heart procedure done at the Webber Heart Center at Munson in Traverse City. "When I woke up, had no headache, no upset stomach. I felt like a new person," says Sharkey.

      Sharkey always led an active lifestyle and watched his diet, but heart disease runs in his family. Back in 1999, he had open heart surgery because of four blockages and just four years ago, he was diagnosed him with aortic stinosis.

      "My doctor said it's a hardening of your aortic valve, the largest valve in your heart. It held for four years, but I was getting shortness of breath," says Sharkey.

      Since Sharkey was not a candidate for another invasive heart surgery, his cardiologist recommended a minimally invasive procedure called, transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR. In September, Munson's Structural Heart Clinic starting offering the new procedure.

      "We've started a new program that allows us to replace the valve, put in a new valve by going through the blood vessel in the leg. So, it's replacing the old valve with a new valve without open heart surgery," says Dr. Nick Slocum, an interventional cardiologist at Munson.

      Dr. Slocum, the director at Munson's Structural Heart Clinic says the catheter-based technique started about ten years ago in Europe but Munson's specialized heart team that includes cardiologists, surgeons, nurses, and other staff enabled the program to take flight in northern Michigan.

      "It's been over a year of building this program. It's a highly regulated procedure and very few centers are doing it. It's a huge team effort of people," says Dr. Slocum.

      "Many candidates are in the 80's, 90's have had previous open heart surgeries, so the thought of going in a second time is a very high risks, so being able to do this through the groin is revolutionary. A lot of us think this is really just the tip of the iceberg," says interventional cardiologist with Munson, Steven Mast.

      Dr. Dan Drake, a Munson cardiac surgeon went to Europe to meet with the founders of the TAVR procedure. He says it's been 50 years since the first open heart surgery and this team approach created a revolutionary impact with TAVR.

      "This is a collaborative effort not only at the physician level but throughout the institution. I'm extremely proud of this team, this was a team effort," says Dr. Drake.

      The TAVR technology is now a blueprint that is paving the way for cutting edge cardiovascular care for people like Dick Sharkey, and it's adding years onto people's lives.

      For more information about the TAVR procedure click here.