Patient’s son-in-law: “My mother has been turned down for surgery. They tell me her mortality rate at 2 years is high since she had fluids collecting in her lungs. They told me to ask you about catheterization.”
Me: “Yes, she does have a tight aortic valve and did develop heart failure. She is also very high risk for surgery. Percutaneous or catheter-based replacement may be an option. She will need a CT Scan first to determine if she is suitable for that treatment.”
The patient’s son-in-law asked me only one question, but a number of questions rushed through my head.
When is a good time to give the patient a contrast load after her recent admission with pulmonary edema? How safe is contrast given her borderline renal dysfunction and recent pulmonary edema? What is the outcome of trans-catheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) in women?
I realized that there were no concrete answers. Irrespective of risk of contrast induced nephropathy, she needs the CT Angiogram. Irrespective of the timing, she remains high risk for recurrent pulmonary edema with or without the 50-60 cc of contrast given during the CT scan. Irrespective of her gender, TAVR maybe her only option. So, the CT scan was done with a small amount of contrast & her renal function remained unchanged and she did not develop pulmonary edema. She had borderline parameters with a short distance from the aortic valve annulus to left main, significant calcification into her LVOT, small tortuous and calcified common iliac arteries bilaterally. She was not an “ideal” candidate.
Me: “You are at a higher risk of coronary occlusion. We can place an undeployed stent preemptively in the coronary artery. Your risk of requiring a pacemaker is high and we’ve notified our electrophysiologist. Your risk of rupture is high, so we plan to use a self-expanding valve. We may need to use an alternative access like your armpit artery.”
Patient: “I don’t want any procedure.”
Patient’s son-in-law: “Is there anything else that we can do that is less risky?”
Me: “Palliative balloon valvuloplasty, but the gradient will increase again in 6-12 months.”
Patient: “I don’t want any procedure.”
Patient’s son (in-law): “Can we repeat this valvuloplasty every 6 months if need be?”
Patient: “I don’t want procedure.”
Me: “She does not want any procedure. It is time you and I listen to her.”
This patient was referred to me by a colleague from another hospital. She had no sons of her own but had her son-in-law to accompany her. She was a small, frail, soft spoken, elderly lady. She was also grateful for the care she received. We immediately had the surgeons evaluate her. While the surgeons were examining her, I did a quick literature review:
Data from Vancouver demonstrated that the mortality rate at 30 days after TAVR was 6.5% in women and 11.2% in men after accounting for other variables.1 This advantage for the female gender was maintained at 1 year as confirmed by the PARTNER Trial sub-analysis. Whether this was due to worse surgical outcomes in women or an advantage of TAVR in women was further explored by Humphries et al. Although vascular complications were higher in women, the overall survival rate at 2 years was 72.1% for women and 61.7% for men. Real world international registry and the first WIN TAVR registry further confirmed that high risk women had low 30-day and one-year mortality and stroke rates.2-4
Naturally, I picked up the conversation where the surgeons left off. In retrospect, even as a woman interventional cardiologist, was I dismissive of my patient’s own preference? Do we have a tendency to ignore female patients’ wishes more than men? Do we have a tendency to ignore elderly patients’ wishes more than younger ones? Or do we find it difficult to resolve to hospice care even before exhausting all options? It may be a combination of all of these. I don’t normally dismiss my patients’ wishes, but this time, I was clearly not listening. Maybe I listened to my colleague (a physician) and maybe I just grew attached to this soft spoken grateful woman…and I couldn’t resign myself to writing hospice care for her. Women..men..no matter, we make imperfect choices at times driven by our humanity. May that imperfection continue to drive us to care.
1. Humphries KH, Toggweiler S, Rodés-Cabau J, et al. Sex differences in mortality after transcatheter aortic valve replacement for severe aortic stenosis. J Am Coll Cardiol 2012;60:882–6.
2. Williams M, et al. Sex-related differences in outcomes after transcatheter or surgical aortic valve replacement in patients with severe aortic stenosis: Insights from the PARTNER Trial (Placement of Aortic Transcatheter Valve). J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014 Apr 22;63(15):1522-8.
3. Chieffo A, et al. 1-Year Clinical Outcomes in Women After Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement: Results From the First WIN-TAVI Registry. JACC Cardiovasc Interv. 2018 Jan 8;11(1):1-12.
4. Chieffo A, et al. Acute and 30-Day Outcomes in Women After TAVR: Results From the WIN-TAVI (Women’s INternational Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation) Real-World Registry. JACC Cardiovasc Interv. 2016 Aug 8;9(15): 1589-600.