Ground-breaking heart procedure at YRMC a real life-saver
Prescott Country Club resident gets ‘second chance for life’
Prescott Country Club resident Linda Reuna is a medical trailblazer — the first Yavapai Regional Medical Center patient to undergo a transcatheter mitral valve replacement in the west campus’ 3-year-old, $6.5 million hybrid surgical suite.
With time running short on her life, Reuna and her husband for a half century, Bob, entrusted a six-member team of cardiac professionals to perform the novel, yet quite complex procedure, knowing it was better than a gamble but not without risk.
On June 27, the two-time open-heart surgery patient with an irreparably damaged replacement mitral valve was deemed a candidate for what hospital officials described as an “emerging and highly complex procedure” performed on patients with “severely compromised health.”
“Very few heart centers in Arizona, the region or even nationwide have the advanced technology, medical expertise or state-of-the-art facilities necessary to perform TMVR,” said Dr. Soundos Moualla in a hospital news release. “We are fortunate that YRMC’s Heart Center has all three components and we were prepared to offer this procedure to our patients.”
The medical team uses a thin catheter and computer technology to remove and replace the damaged mitral valve. In Reuna’s case, it was replaced with cow tissue.
“I don’t know how I have my (positive) attitude because I have been through H-E-L-L,” spelled Reuna who was first diagnosed with genetic heart disease as a 47-year-old Phoenix automobile company accounting manager.
The always on-the-go woman with strong hands, but a not-so-strong heart, was swimming while on a 2007 Fourth of July family camping trip in north Arkansas. She became too weak to walk back to the couple’s motor home. Then she collapsed.
Her body just wasn’t cooperating with her vitality.
“From 1995, it was always something,” admitted Reuna.
She had been forced to take a disability retirement because of her ongoing medical complications, which required at least 15 angiograms, stents and a 2007 open-heart, double-bypass surgery.
“But I always caught it before I had a heart attack,” she said.
Except this time. She was forced to undergo emergency open-heart surgery to replace her mitral valve – with pig tissue.
“I was so sick. I was a basket case,” Reuna recalled.
She ended up requiring yet another surgery, this one related to her trachea that required her to fly to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Once she was healed, the couple decided to make a move to north Arkansas. They stayed there for five years and then moved to Hawaii.
It was during a visit to her cardiologist in Oahu that she was informed of a deterioration in her replacement mitral valve. And the doctor offered no solution.
Reuna and her husband decided to move back to Arizona. They selected a home to refurbish and landscape – the couple moved some 30,000 stones on the property – in Dewey.
Yet Reuna’s health was now a ticking time bomb.
After a six-month search for a new cardiologist, the Reunas met Gwen Rhodes, a registered nurse and coordinator for YRMC’s Structural Heart program. She introduced them to Dr. Soundos Moualla, an interventional cardiologist and the director of YRMC’s Structural Heart program.
Moualla offered the Reunas hope. The catch – Linda would be the first YRMC patient to undergo the non-invasive procedure offered at only a limited number of hospitals in Arizona and around the country.
YRMC’s medical teams have performed other high-tech interventional procedures, including 41 transcatheter aortic valve replacements last year. The TMVR is the latest option.
Reuna and her husband credit their willingness to be the “guinea pig” to their faith in the YRMC team.
“She (Dr. Moualla) put me through every test you could think of to make sure everything was in good condition,” Reuna said.
And there were a couple of hiccups.
Reuna was found to need treatment for an unknown blood illness and a case of the shingles.
Finally, though, the day arrived for the surgery.
“I can say, honestly, I had no pain,” Reuna said. “If I didn’t know it, I wouldn’t have thought I had surgery.”
She was home in three days.
“So Prescott can do this now!” declared Reuna’s husband, who praises the YRMC team’s expertise as the reason why he and his wife might celebrate a 65th anniversary. “This is probably the greatest hospital, with the greatest surgeons and technicians, anywhere.”
On Aug. 6, just five weeks after her procedure, the Reunas were off to Las Vegas. They will follow that up with a road trip to visit friends in north Arkansas and then prepare for a three-day family railroad trip to the Grand Canyon.
Upon leaving the hospital, Reuna said she asked her husband to take her for a manicure. She now sports a chocolate shade of gel nails. Her husband interjects: “And toes too.”
And Bob Reuna said he may hire a housekeeper.
Simply put, the two want to savor YRMC’s gift.
“I had never even heard of anything like this,” Reuna said. “It has given me a second chance for life.”