PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A game changing heart procedure has given a local father and son a new lease on life and now it is available to more than a million others.

The FDA’s approval comes in part, thanks to doctors and patients participating in the trial right here in Arizona.

“He kept telling me you're going to die Grant you're going to die,” 93-year-old Grant Gunnell remembers his doctor warning him. He says he felt fine but in fact was suffering from aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aortic valve that obstructs blood flow to the heart and rest of the body. Grant immediately qualified for the minimally invasive, low surgical risk, transcatheter aortic valve replacement because of his age.

The TAVR procedure meant no open-heart surgery.

“We enter the femoral artery we come up through aorta we come through the bad valve and on a wire this valve is released from catheter about the size of my pen into place,” Said Dr. Timothy Byrne, Executive Director of Cardiac Services at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital.  “Actually, deploying the valve takes 15-20 seconds very safe and simple procedure.”

Grant couldn’t believe how simple it really was. Instead of spending weeks recovering from open heart surgery Grant had no down time and was golfing just a few days later.

So, you can imagine Gordon Gunnell’s surprise when he received the same diagnosis as his dad but a different treatment plan.

“He said it’s bad you are going to need open heart surgery and I said wait a minute my dad didn't have open heart surgery,” said Gordon.

As luck would have it, Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital is one of 87 in the world and the only one in Arizona participating in a clinical trial of the TAVR procedure in low risk patients and Gordon qualified.

Gordon was home within a day and a half and back to work the next week.

“I felt more alive and I'm pretty sure that is because I was getting more oxygen,” said Gordon.

And, like father like son, both Gunnell guys have Dr. Timothy Byrne to thank for that.

“It has been the most gratifying thing of my career,” said Dr. Byrne. “Lifesaving, life giving, life changing.”

In August the Food and Drug Administration approved the TAVR procedure for low risk patients making it available to another 1.5 million younger, healthier Americans.

“The best thing about the valve therapy is that it gives the patient both quality and life,” said Dr. Byrne. “You give the patients quality and you give them life and that is an amazing gift.”

The clinical trial, for low-risk patients, started in 2016.

Since then, Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital has enrolled approximately 1,000 patients.

While FDA approval came in August, patients will continue to be monitored for 10 years.


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