Lester Tenney has cheated death on multiple occasions.
He is a survivor of World War II’s infamous Bataan Death March.
He endured more than three years of slave labor in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
And three months ago, he benefited from an experimental heart procedure that will undoubtedly add even more years to his remarkable life.
On April 26, this decorated war veteran became the 25th person in San Diego to undergo an investigational transcatheter aortic heart valve replacement. The FDA-approved clinical trial, known as PARTNER, is currently meant for patients at high risk for conventional open-heart valve surgery.
“This procedure may represent a new treatment option for heart valve replacement that is less invasive, safer and more cost effective compared to open heart surgery,” says Scripps interventional cardiologist Paul Teirstein, MD. “It can potentially improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of heart patients suffering with severe aortic stenosis.”
A better option for heart surgery
Annually, about 200,000 people in the United States need a heart valve replacement, but nearly half of them do not receive one because they’re too sick to tolerate conventional open heart surgery. In the PARTNER trial, the valve is placed via a catheter inserted through an artery in the patient’s leg or directly through the left ventricle of the heart via a small incision in the chest. These techniques eliminate the need for a major open heart surgery.
Tenney, who recently turned 90 years old, was diagnosed with a serious aortic valve problem in November 2009. With increasing shortness of breath and severe chest pain, the Carlsbad resident was in dire need of valve replacement surgery. He had already undergone bypass surgery 22 years prior. His health history combined with his age made traditional open heart surgery significantly more risky.
“At that point, I knew something had to be done and I thought my only option was open heart surgery,” he said.
It was then that Tenney began researching his options online, and he learned about the PARTNER trial being performed at the Cleveland Clinic. He was all set to pack his bags and travel across the country when he discovered that there was a trial site right in his backyard at Scripps.
“It pleased me that I could have it done here locally so my family could be there with me,” says Tenney. “I emailed Dr. Teirstein on a Sunday and told him about my problems, and he wrote back to me within an hour – that was very impressive to me.”
Groundbreaking new surgery
Dr. Teirstein and cardiothoracic surgeons John Tyner, MD, and Scot Brewster, MD, performed Tenney’s percutaneous heart valve replacement. Transcatheter aortic heart valve surgery uses a small, collapsible heart valve, packaged within a balloon-expandable stent, similar to what is used routinely to open and reinforce coronary blood vessels. Using advanced imaging techniques and only small incisions, the new valve is guided and placed through an artery in the leg or the chest wall.
Within 48 hours Tenney was walking around, eating solid food, and feeling “pretty good”. His only complaint – that he was ready to go home by the third day, but the doctors wouldn’t discharge him until his full five-day recovery period was up.
Back to doing what he loves
Having made a remarkable recovery, Tenney is now enjoying all of the activities that he had been forced to give up due to his ailing heart. He swims regularly, is starting to play tennis again, and is able to devote more time to Care Packages from Home, the grassroots charity he started three years ago with other military veterans from the La Costa Glen Retirement Community.
Determined that today’s troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are “not forgotten,” Tenney and his cohorts ship out 50 packages a week filled with essentials. He wants to make sure that our service men and women know America still supports them.
He and his wife of 50 years, Betty, have lived in the La Costa Glen Retirement Community for seven years.
“When we moved into this house seven years ago I gave my wife a 10-year guarantee and it was very important to me that I fulfilled my contract,” says Tenney. “Now with my new heart I’m working on a new five year guarantee with the right to renew.”
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