UW Health: Offers new minimally invasive therapy for congenital heart disease patients

Contact: Emily Kumlien
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Harmony Transcatheter Valve procedure is a non-surgical alternative to open-heart surgery

MADISON, Wis. – UW Health is now performing a new non-surgical procedure for patients with congenital heart disease. This therapy will lead to improved quality of life and faster recovery times for many individuals living with this condition, including 24-year-old Cole Hefty.

            Living with congenital heart disease has never deterred Hefty from pursuing the sport he loves. Some of the best moments in his life, he says, have come from playing competitive hockey throughout childhood and teaching the sport to young kids today. But when doctors told him last year that one of his heart valves was failing and needed to be replaced, he worried the recovery from open heart surgery would keep him off the ice for months. Thankfully, doctors at University Hospital had other plans for him.

            In October, Hefty became the first patient at UW Health to receive the Harmony Transcatheter Pulmonary Valve (TPV), a new minimally-invasive device designed for patients with severe pulmonary valve regurgitation – a common condition for people with congenital heart disease. The device is designed to be delivered to the heart using a catheter instead of open-heart surgery. Instead of spending a week in the hospital and months recovering at home, Hefty left the hospital 24 hours after his procedure and was back skating with his team by the end of the week.

            “Hearing that I was a candidate for this less invasive device was a huge relief for me and my family,” said Hefty, who’d had three open heart surgeries by the time he was three years old. “I couldn’t believe how quickly I was discharged from the hospital and able to get back to doing the things I love most.”

            According to Dr. Luke Lamers, interventional cardiologist at UW Health, the Harmony TPV is a much welcome treatment alternative for the hundreds of thousands of patients living with congenital heart disease. 

            “The Harmony valve is definitely a gamechanger for our congenital heart disease patients,” said Lamers, who performed the first Harmony TPV procedure at UW Health. “We can now deliver the same benefit that we’ve been providing for our patients in the past but with a far less invasive approach that results in considerably shorter recovery time.”

            The benefits of the new valve reach far beyond the initial procedure as well. The device’s unique design, Lamers says, allows doctors to fit another valve inside the current one, should the patient ever need the valve replaced later in life, thereby decreasing the number of surgeries a patient would need over the course of their lifetime.

            “Patients with congenital heart disease will frequently require three, four, and sometimes even five open-heart surgeries during their lifetime, but we are hopeful that this device could potentially cut that number down to one,” Lamers said.

            To implant the valve, Lamers made a tiny incision in Cole’s groin and delivered the Harmony valve through a catheter to his heart. Once the valve was in position and released from the catheter, the valve opened and re-established efficient blood flow from the right ventricle to his lungs.

            “It feels great to get back to some normalcy and to know that I can pretty much do anything physically that I want to do,” said Hefty. “I feel incredibly lucky to have had some of the best doctors in the country taking care of me and helping me get back on my feet so quickly.”

            Congenital heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of birth defect in the United States, affecting an estimated 40,000 infants each year. Approximately one in five people born with CHD have an abnormality of their right ventricular outflow tract, that makes it difficult for blood to travel from the heart to the lungs, requiring about 80 percent of these patients to have open-heart surgery or other interventions early in life to address these malformations.

            Although the unique design of the Harmony valve allows it to adapt to a wide variety of patient anatomies, not all patients are candidates for the procedure.