You’ve heard it before: If you want cutting-edge medical treatment, you’ll have to go out of town — probably to Los Angeles.
That’s becoming less and less so, and did again this past week when Bakersfield Memorial Hospital announced it’s about to offer a new heart procedure.
It’s called Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, or TAVR, and it’s a minimally invasive way to replace the aortic valve in patients with a condition called aortic stenosis. That’s when the aortic valve narrows and diminishes blood blow between the heart and the rest of the body.
TAVR is an alternative to open heart surgery. A surgeon mounts a valve on a catheter and guides it through the body through arteries, typically starting in the leg and then through the aorta.
It’s largely been for patients with severe aortic stenosis for which open-heart surgery is a high-risk, said Dr. Tommy Lee, catheterization lab director for Bakersfield Memorial. But its use has been expanding, he said.
Doctors have been performing the procedure for about 10 years, Lee said. Since then the technology has matured, enabling community hospitals and not just big university medical centers to adopt it.
There are 490 healthcare facilities nationwide offering TAVR, according to Memorial Hospital officials.
Currently, Bakersfield patients tend to get the procedure done at UCLA, USC and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Lee said. Based on government reports, he estimated about 50 patients a year will undergo TAVR locally after Memorial starts offering it later this year.
That’s huge news for those people, said Michelle Willow, director of communications for Dignity Health Mercy and Memorial Hospitals.
“Many of these patients are really ill, so it’s really difficult for them to travel back and forth between here and L.A.,” she said.
Memorial officials credited local donors for helping bring new cardiovascular services like TAVR to Bakersfield, especially the Munger agriculture family. Its gift of $3.5 million helped establish the Sarvanand Heart & Brain Center, founded in 2012.
Local cardiologist Sarabjeet “Jeet” Singh of Centric Healthcare/Central Cardiology has performed the procedure at Cedars-Sinai more than 100 times and now will be doing it here at home.
He expects that within two years the Bakersfield Heart Hospital will also be offering the procedure. Developing the staff and infrastructure required is quite involved, said Singh, a heart valve specialist.
He’s excited it’s getting started at Memorial.
“It’s a good moment for Kern County,” Singh said.