First of its Kind Trial at UW Medicine for Heart Failure

An experimental study at the University of Washington is already saving lives.

An experimental study at the University of Washington has already saved the life of a man during heart failure.

Last fall, Ed Ward, 74, was having a hard time doing ordinary tasks like yard work. Then suddenly walking became too much for him.

“I was heavier, full of water, crept up on me so slow, I just really didn't understand what was going on, it was so gradual, then when it hit me it let me know that it was there,” remembers Ward.

Ward thought he was just out of shape, but it turned out to be much more severe. After several rounds of tests, Ward was diagnosed with Functional Mitral Regurgitation, commonly known as FMR or leaky valve. There is no cure for heart failure or FMR and about half of the people who develop heart failure die within five years of diagnosis.

“I didn't sleep for three weeks, afraid too, I didn't think I'd wake up,” Ward said remembering his terror.

Ward was immediately referred to the structural heart team at the University of Washington.

“When he was referred to me back in the fall he was having class three, class four heart failure. He could only walk about 20 feet before he got short of breath before he had to stop, very limiting for him,” says Dr. Creighton Don, UW Medicine Interventional Cardiologist.

The combination of his age and heart failure made him a high risk for conventional heart surgery. But, Ward did turn out to be the perfect patient to participate in a national study for a new device called Accucinch.

Here’s how it works: Doctors thread a catheter (a small tube) through his vein from the leg and into the heart. Then a ‘collar-like’ device designed with a cable and series of anchors is put in place. Doctor’s then tightened the cable to cinch the enlarged portion of the heart, like a belt. It decreases the size of the heart-easing symptoms and strengthens the heart.

One month after having the surgery, Ward says all his symptoms are gone.

“It's nice to have full breaths,” says Ward.

While Accucinch is still in the testing phase, doctors believe they are just scratching the surface with this new technology.

“Once we discover a technology that was effective we started realizing that there are a lot of patients sitting in nursing homes or who are on hospice or who were not even seeing a physician who were told there were no options and there are a lot of these patients who have come out of the woodwork so to speak that we can offer a benefit to,” said Dr. Don.

And while Ward is back to feeling like his ‘old’ self, he still feels young at heart.

“I'm gonna be 75 years old. I guess you could say I'm up there, but not so bad that I don’t have another five or ten in me at least, ya know. So, I feel too good to think I'm over the hill ya know, never think that yet but anyway I'm having a good time with it because I feel so good,” says Ward.

Dr. Don believes within 10 years this procedure will be as commonplace as the cardiac stents that are used to treat patients with blocked arteries.

The University of Washington Medical Center is currently enrolling new patients and will evaluate anyone who they feel could benefit from participating in the study.

Credit: K5 News