Topeka hospital hits milestone with heart procedure

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - At age 76, Ken Crockett still enjoys helping students work through challenges, taking on long-term substitute teaching assignments in Topeka schools.

But last spring, he was the one in search of answers.

"Mainly I was having problems with fatigue, no energy, couldn't walk more than maybe 30 yards at the most without having to stop and rest," Ken recalls.

Doctors discovered his heart valve wasn't working. But, with his age, they laid out the risks of having traditional open heart surgery to replace it.

"I would only have a 50 percent chance of leaving the (operating) table," he said.

Fortunately, he was a candidate for transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR.

"It's a minimally invasive procedure to replace the aortic valve," Dr. Seshu Rao of Topeka's Cotton O'Neil Heart Center explained.

Rather than opening the chest to insert a new valve, the surgical team makes small incisions and uses a catheter to put a new valve in place.

The Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center began offering it in fall 2015 and, in May 2018, completed its 100th TAVR procedure.

"The big thing is we're able to serve the community, give them this option. A hundred is a number - we want to look beyond that," Dr. Rao said. "People who couldn't do their activities of daily living, who really want to be up and about, want to attend their grandkids ballgames, want to go out shopping, want to do things on their own... now we're able to make this possible."

Ken couldn't believe the difference.

"I was ready to come home when I woke up in the recovery room," he said. "It was just like somebody flipped the switch!"

Now, he's back in class, putting his heart into helping the next generation.

"I'm able to do basically everything," he said.

Recovery for TAVR is one or two days in the hospital, versus more than a week with open heart surgery.

Not everyone is a candidate for it, so patients should talk to their doctor.