Cutting-edge heart procedures keep him on the move

"Within two weeks after the procedure, I could do what I wanted without any pain." Richard Kenney

A year ago, Richard Kenney found it difficult to walk up a flight of stairs. By the time he got to the top, he was weak and out of breath.

Richard, 79, had spent his career traveling all over the world as owner of a company that manufactured industrial x-ray equipment. Having his movements restricted by a worsening heart condition was both frustrating and sobering.

"It was getting really bad," he said. "I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t walk. I was worried about traveling anywhere by myself."

Richard turned to Yale New Haven Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Center (HVC). Each year HVC treats the most heart and vascular patients of any facility in Connecticut and performs virtually all cardiac and vascular procedures available worldwide.

Richard was no stranger to the center, having undergone a previous procedure there. In 2011, he began suffering from peripheral arterial disease, a common vascular disorder that impacts the flow of blood through an artery.

Richard was treated by Carlos I. Mena, MD, medical director of vascular medicine at YNHH, who performed an endovascular below-the-knee intervention in the artery. While the specific procedure – in which complex blockages are opened to allow blood flow to be reestablished in the limb – was a relatively new one at the time of Richard’s diagnosis, it is now done on a routine basis at HVC. The traditional treatment for patients with peripheral arterial disease is a surgical bypass, which requires a lengthier recovery period. Because Richard wasn’t a good candidate for the bypass procedure, he faced the very real possibility of a below-the-knee amputation if his symptoms weren’t addressed.

"Dr. Mena did a great job with the stents in my leg, and ever since then it hasn’t been a problem," said Richard. "Within two weeks after the procedure, I could do what I wanted without any pain."

By 2013 however, Richard was experiencing fatigue, shortness of breath and limited mobility due to a problem with the aortic valve in his heart. He returned to YNHH and test results showed that his aortic valve needed to be replaced – a procedure that normally involves high-risk open-heart surgery and a lengthy recovery. Instead, Richard’s cardiologist, Michael W. Cleman, MD, director of the YNHH Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, referred him to the Structural Heart Disease Program for a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).

TAVR is a procedure that involves using a catheter from the leg or other approach to deliver a new aortic valve that replaces the heart’s diseased aortic valve without requiring open-heart surgery. Yale New Haven Hospital was the first hospital in Connecticut to offer TAVR as a treatment option for patients with severe aortic stenosis.

Richard, who had undergone previous open-heart surgery in 2004 to treat pericardial thickening, was a good candidate for the TAVR procedure, which was performed by John K. Forrest, MD, director of the Structural Heart Disease Program.

"When I had open-heart surgery in 2004, I was in a lot of pain, in the hospital for two weeks and couldn’t drive for a month," said Richard. "But after the TAVR, it was unbelievable – I was in the hospital only a few nights and was back to normal within several days."

A year later, Richard is now back to doing activities he hadn’t been able to do in quite some time. He plays golf, works out at his grandson’s gym – and travels. Recently Richard and his partner, Sally, went to New Zealand and Fiji on a dream vacation.

Other trips Richard has made since his surgeries haven’t ranged quite as far afield, but they have been just as memorable. This past December, Richard and Sally took his two great-grandchildren, ages 4 and 2, on the train into New York City to see the Christmas show.

"Moments like that – they are priceless," he said. "I’m grateful to the doctors and staff at Yale New Haven Hospital for giving them back to me."