UHealth Patient is Turning 100 after Heart Valve Replacement at 95

Ruth Sanford plans to celebrate her 100th birthday in style, thanks to an aortic valve replacement she received at age 95 from the heart team at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System.

From left, Eduardo J. de Marchena, M.D., Ruth Sanford and Richard Sanford, B.A., ’69.

“Before my heart procedure, I was always short of breath,” said Sanford, a 99-year-old resident of Lauderhill, in a recent interview at UHealth Tower, the site of her ground-breaking procedure. “Since then, I’ve been able to go golfing and shopping again. I even danced at my granddaughter Melissa’s wedding in California.”

Born on March 21, 1918, Sanford today has three sons, five grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren in California, New York and other parts of the country.

“She has always enjoyed an active lifestyle,” said her son Richard Sanford, BA ’69, a retired teacher in New York. “Now, she’s taking fewer medications as well. It’s been a blessing for us to enjoy this time with her.”

Five years ago, Sanford became concerned when she couldn’t walk to her mailbox without losing her breath. Her cardiologist took an angiogram that showed she needed a new aortic valve and recommended open heart surgery – a high risk procedure for a woman in her 90s.

“My sons started looking around for other options,” she said.

Fortunately, Sanford was referred to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the UHealth Structural Heart Team. She qualified for a new clinical trial for which the principal investigator was Eduardo J. de Marchena, M.D., professor of medicine and surgery, and associate dean for the UM International Medicine Institute (IMI).

IMI’s research and education programs with the CoreValve in its early years led to expertise with the technology, which made it possible for UM to be one of the clinical trial sites once the U.S. trials began. This included the Medtronic CoreValve® Continued Access Trial in which Ruth Sanford enrolled for her valve implant.

Known as an international expert in cardiology, de Marchena is also course director of Miami Valves 2018, the IMI’s annual professional cardiology conference being held February 1-3 at the Marriott Biscayne Bay. This conference highlights new innovation in structural cardiology, such as the procedure performed on Ruth Sanford.

“Five years ago, Ruth became one of the first people to have this percutaneous aortic valve replacement procedure at UHealth as part of the Continued Access Trial,” said de Marchena. “Her success opened the door for many other patients to enjoy a higher quality of life.”

De Marchena added that the percutaneous valve replacement procedure is highly complex.

“Our Heart Team members talk with the patient, review the status of the heart and decide if this intervention is appropriate,” he said. “We have had very good outcomes, with most recent patients going home two to three days after the procedure, which typically takes about 45 minutes.”

In the past five years, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized the percutaneous aortic valve replacement procedure for extreme and high risk, and intermediate risk patients, said Suresh Atapattu, M.S., a biomedical engineer on the UHealth heart team. Currently, it is available as part of the research trial for low risk patients.

“To date, we have treated more than 150 patients at UHealth Tower as part of our IMI clinical research trials, including two who received new heart valves and are now age 100, as well as younger patients in their 60s, 70s and 80s,” he said.

Reflecting on her experience, Ruth Sanford says, “It was a great relief not to have a big incision from the surgery. When I got home, I kept looking for a scar, but I couldn’t find anything. Dr. de Marchena is a wonderful man, and I can’t wait to celebrate my 100th birthday.”