Ida WilliamsWhen Ida Williams saw her family doctor for a head cold, she wasn’t expecting any unusual news. But when Ida’s physician listened to her lungs and heart during what would have been an otherwise normal office visit, he heard a heart murmur – often a sign of heart valve disease - and recommended the 77-year-old retiree seek further treatment.

While the Florham Park resident had been told three years prior she had a slight heart murmur, after hearing the news a second time, Ida decided it was time for more information.

“I wanted to know just how bad it was,” says Ida.

After consulting with a cardiologist and undergoing testing, Ida was referred to cardiac surgeon Mark J. Russo, MD, director, Center for Aortic Diseases and Cardiothoracic Research at the Barnabas Health Heart Centers, RWJBarnabas Health facilities. Dr. Russo is a nationally renowned heart surgeon who performs traditional open heart surgery and minimally invasive catheter-based procedures.

During Ida’s appointment with Dr. Russo, she was diagnosed with aortic stenosis. After completing a comprehensive assessment and additional testing, Dr. Russo explained to Ida the various options for treatment and recommended she undergo Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR).

A minimally invasive, FDA-approved procedure, TAVR is used to treat severe aortic stenosis. During the procedure, a synthetic or artificial valve is collapsed and threaded through a blood vessel, usually through the groin, to the heart on the tip of a catheter. Physicians use state-of-the-art imaging technology to visualize its precise placement and expand the new valve. It begins to function immediately and works like a normal healthy valve that allows for proper blood flow through the chambers of the heart. Because no chest incision is required, recovery is minimal. Patients experience less pain and are often able to return home the following day.

Having performed more than 500 successful TAVR procedures at the Barnabas Health Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, Dr. Russo and the team from the Barnabas Health Heart Centers are among the most experienced in the U.S. And, in an effort to offer greater access to this life-saving therapy, Dr. Russo along with his colleagues Bruce Haik, MD, director of Cardiac Catheterization Labs, Barnabas Health Heart Centers, and Chunguang Chen, MD, director of Cardiac Imaging, Barnabas Health Heart Centers, now perform TAVR at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, also an RWJBarnabas Health facility. Ida was the first patient to undergo TAVR at the facility.

Today, she credits Dr. Russo and the nurses and staff with calming her nerves and getting her back on her feet.

"Everybody was wonderful. I was scared, but the nurses reassured me I was going to be alright. They were all angels,” she says. “I wouldn’t dream of going to another hospital.”

And although, Ida didn’t realize the impact her heart condition was having on her life, she couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.

“I used to get out of breath a lot. If I was up moving around, I’d need to sit down for a few minutes here and there because I’d be huffing and puffing,” she says. “I never knew it was related to my heart, but since the surgery, I’m doing it all with ease. I feel much, much better - like I could run up a bunch of steps. It’s a brand new me!”