Emergency Heart Valve Replacement Surgery Saves Triad Man’s Life

May 31, 2017

Jack Vynalek enjoys hiking. In fact, he and his wife, Pam, were hiking Pilot Mountain 10 days before his heart valve stopped pumping blood through his heart. The good news is he is still around to tell the story.

“By the grace of God, it’s a miracle that I’m here, today,” said Vynalek.

Some of us are not used to heart issues. But for the 66-year-old Clemmons resident, it was not foreign territory. Diagnosed when he was 25 with high blood pressure, Vynalek was born with a bicuspid heart valve. Normal valves are tricuspid.

Back in his home state of Ohio in 2014, Vynalek received a bovine heart valve to replace the one he was born with. Doctors also fixed an aortic aneurysm discovered in 2008. Life was back to normal for Vynalek until February of this year. It is inconclusive, but doctors think an infection may have led to the sudden failure of his bovine valve.

The problem this time? Vynalek’s valve was deteriorating at a deathly pace. When most people are diagnosed with failing valves, there is time to schedule a surgery and prepare for valve replacement. That was not the case with Vynalek.  

“If they hadn’t taken me right then to surgery and replaced my heart valve, I wouldn’t have made it. The heart team was very decisive, calm, cool and collected in performing the procedure that day that helped me survive.”

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s heart and vascular team, one of only a few hospital teams in the state that participated in clinical trials six years ago to test transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), is the first team in the region to perform an emergent valve replacement that saved Vynalek’s life.

“Many heart patients with failing valves are diagnosed over a longer period which gives the patient and doctors time to prepare for surgery,” said David Zhao, M.D., chief of cardiovascular medicine and executive director of Wake Forest Baptist’s Heart and Vascular Center. “Mr. Vynalek’s sudden failure represents a unique case, but the experience of our heart team with TAVR and many other devices is an example of how advances in technology give us another tool that can quickly benefit these patients.”

Since 2011, Wake Forest Baptist has performed more than 500 TAVR cases. TAVR is an innovative minimally- invasive procedure that delivers replacement valves via catheter for patients with severe aortic stenosis, an abnormal narrowing of the aortic valve. Other heart -events like a failing replacement valve, as in Vynalek’s case, can necessitate this procedure. In both situations, heart valves do not function properly and force the heart to work harder to pump blood.

“To be able to perform this procedure in an emergent situation relies on the coordination of many care teams,” said Edward H. Kincaid, M.D., chair, Cardiothoracic Surgery. “The outcome in Mr. Vynalek’s case was a testament to the coordination of care and attention our teams provide to our heart patients.”

Eventually, this extra work can weaken your heart to the point where surgical repair is more risky than the structural heart disease itself. However, without some form of treatment, this condition can cause heart failure or death.

During the TAVR procedure, a team of doctors including an interventional cardiologist, cardiac surgeon, anesthesiologist and Echo cardiologist inserts and guides a catheter through the femoral artery in the leg that allows access to the aorta. Doctors then use a second catheter, which carries the compressed replacement valve, and delivers it to the aorta. Using advanced imaging technology, our experts check the valve for proper placement. Once in place, the valve expands, wedging the replacement valve permanently into place and pushing the diseased valve tissue out of the way. The tissue in the replacement valve takes over the job of regulating blood flow.

With his new heart valve in place, Vynalek looks forward to returning to hiking and the many other activities he enjoys like golf and watching ACC and SEC college sports. But most of all, he is excited about what he calls a second chance at life.

“Maybe there is more of a purpose for me that I haven’t realized before,” said Vynalek. “I consider myself a very blessed and lucky guy.”

Media Relations

Joe McCloskey: jmcclosk@wakehealth.edu, 336-716-1273

Eryn Johnson: eryjohns@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-8228