Broncos coach John Fox successfully underwent aortic valve replacement surgery on Monday, November 4, according to the Broncos organization and players. The 58-year-old was taken to the hospital for light-headedness and was told that he needed aortic valve replacement surgery immediately – a procedure he reportedly hoped to delay until after the Super Bowl.
“Coach Fox is of the age that we typically see patients with aortic valve problems,” said Dr. David Fullerton, cardiothoracic surgeon at University of Colorado Hospital. “Aortic valve stenosis develops when the aortic valve leaflets slowly stiffen and aren’t able to open and close properly.”
“The three signs of possible problems with the aortic valve are chest pressure, shortness of breath and fainting,” said Dr. Fullerton.
People who display these symptoms should see their physician. If a heart condition is suspected, a patient may be referred to a cardiologist who can perform tests for a diagnosis, such as an echocardiogram that uses sound waves to detect aortic valve stenosis.
“Generally left untreated, aortic valve stenosis can lead to heart failure and death in severe cases,” said Dr. Michael Stanton, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Medical Center of the Rockies who regularly performs valve replacement surgeries.
According to Dr. Stanton, aortic valve replacement is one of the most common valve surgeries, generally caused by rheumatic fever, degenerative disease of a patient older than 55, a congenital anomaly where there are two leaflets instead of three predisposing them to disease, or infection of the valve causing deterioration of the valve. Most patients can be treated effectively with open valve replacement surgery.
“Although aortic valve replacement is a major operation, it is very safe,” said Dr. Fullerton, who says the traditional, open operation typically takes up to four hours and requires a four to six day hospital stay.
A small percentage of patients who are too sick for open-heart surgery may be candidates for a cutting-edge, less-invasive procedure that uses a catheter to transport a new valve, through a patient’s arteries, to the heart. Medical Center of the Rockies and University of Colorado Hospital are two of the few hospitals in the region with this technology called TAVR, or transcatheter aortic valve replacement.