Patient goes the distance for TAVR


In this article: 

  • After several years of illness and injuries, Rich Chartrand was diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis, a condition that requires immediate medical care.

  • Once Rich determined that TAVR was the right treatment for him, he successfully traveled from his home in Alaska to the Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute for the procedure. 

  • Learn more about the work of structural heart specialists at the Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute.

Patient goes the distance for TAVR

Rich Chartrand, a 60-year-old resident of Juneau, Alaska, had a life and career filled with diverse adventures. Rich pursued work that kept him active and engaged with communities throughout the United States. He spent 12 years with the Army National Guard and worked in public housing for the State of Alaska. Then he worked in marketing research and with the Department of Homeland Security as a transportation officer.

Rich's passions eventually led him to work in search and rescue efforts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during national emergencies. He was deployed during hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. In 2018, his career was cut short by a fall that resulted in spinal cord injuries and brain trauma. Managing the resulting health issues became Rich’s primary focus. Then he faced another unexpected health emergency in 2021 that his doctors attributed to a previously undetected heart murmur.

A heart murmur leads to an echocardiogram

"Initially, every doctor I consulted explained that my heart murmur was common and harmless. They reassured me that many people have them," says Rich. "But my grandfather died of an enlarged heart when my mother was only 12. And I was still dealing with so many issues from my fall that I was concerned they might be masking a more serious heart issue."

"I couldn't even walk up the small hill to my house without getting out of breath and needing to sit down and rest," he adds. "So, I told my doctor I wanted further investigation to pinpoint the origin of the heart murmur."

Rich's first echocardiogram was in May of 2022, and it indicated aortic stenosis, initially categorized as moderate to severe. A follow-up evaluation in November revealed it to be severe, prompting urgent action.

TAVR is an alternative to open heart surgery

"Life got real serious right away," says Rich. "I'm still really young. I didn't want to die, and in that stage of stenosis, it could have happened."

Open-heart surgery requires a high level of pain management and a long recovery time. Since Rich was still dealing with back pain from his fall, this didn’t seem like a good option to him. His providers at the Swedish Cardiovascular Specialty Clinic in Juneau recommended a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).

Valve replacement often requires open heart surgery. However, TAVR is a minimally invasive procedure that only requires small incisions. Surgeons insert a new heart valve without removing the old, damaged valve. The new valve is placed inside the diseased valve via a catheter where it expands and pushes the old valve leaflets out of the way. The tissue in the replacement valve then takes over the job of regulating blood flow. The procedure is similar to replacing a stent in an artery.

Patients can travel from remote locations for TAVR

Rich and his wife traveled 1,700 miles to Seattle for the TAVR procedure at the Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute at Swedish Cherry Hill. He spent less than a day there and then another 10 days in the Seattle area for follow-up appointments.

"I felt much better than before," says Rich. “Before the TAVR, I struggled with walking long distances and hills, and I lacked endurance. Now, I can easily enjoy two-mile walks, and my overall health has significantly improved. I breathe easier, maintain a stable heart rate and have good blood pressure. While I have a heart murmur and some flow issues with the replacement valve, they are manageable."

Ask questions and get the best care available

While traveling from Juneau to Seattle for the procedure was daunting, Rich is thankful he found providers who caught his aortic stenosis in time. He’s also glad he could make arrangements quickly to get to Swedish Cherry Hill for the TAVR procedure.

"If you are diagnosed with aortic stenosis, make sure you are clear on how severe it is," says Rich. "Even if you live far away from major hospitals, don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Even if it is classified as moderate, start making plans for the possibility that you may need to travel to access the care you need if the condition becomes severe."

Learn more and find a provider

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Contact Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute to schedule an appointment with a cardiovascular provider. You can also connect virtually with your provider to review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. And with Swedish ExpressCare Virtual you can receive treatment in minutes for common conditions such as colds, flu, urinary tract infections, and more. You can use our provider directory to find a specialist or primary care physician near you.

Information for patients and visitors

Related resources

For heart health, small changes make a big difference

Clinical research expands treatment for heart valve disease

Swedish is a destination for innovative, world-class care

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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About the Author

The Swedish Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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