Unique surgery in Wichita gives women a second chance at life

Left: Doctors perform heart surgery on Terri Lohmeyer of Hutchinson using a new device on Nov.  16 at Ascension Via Christi.  Right: Lohmeyer, who was expected to die without the heart operation, recovers in the hospital after the surgery she says has given her a new lease on life.

Left: Doctors perform heart surgery on Terri Lohmeyer of Hutchinson using a new device on Nov. 16 at Ascension Via Christi. Right: Lohmeyer, who was expected to die without the heart operation, recovers in the hospital after the surgery she says has given her a new lease on life.

Ascension Via Christi

Terri Lohmeyer now has a sparkle in her eye.

There hasn’t been much sparkle in the last several years, outside of the birth of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That’s because the 65-year-old Hutchinson woman with multiple heart ailments was dying.

Doctors, even up until mid-November, didn’t give her long to live. But a surgery has changed that.

Only a few organizations worldwide have been approved to use the new device that Lohmeyer now has lodged in her heart, and she’s the first person with her diagnoses to receive it, doctors said.

Before the Nov. 16 surgery at Ascension Via Christi, Lohmeyer couldn’t do anything without help. Taking a few steps required several minutes of recovery and oxygen. If she hadn’t been able to get approval for the surgery, the next plan was hospice care.

But now she’s making plans for the holidays and beyond. She said that’s a miracle.

“Birthday and Christmas, everything is completely new now,” she said the day before Thanksgiving, where she planned for the first time in years to join the family. “When they gave me the surgery, they gave me extra life.”

Lohmeyer’s mitral valve was both leaking (mitral valve regurgitation) and too narrow (mitral stenosis). Typically, the problem with the mitral valve is that it is too loose, according to Brett Grizzell, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Wichita Surgical Specialists.

Grizzell and a team of other doctors oversaw Lohmeyer’s surgery and care.

The rare combination of diagnoses led to Lohmeyer being turned away from other trials.

And the life-saving surgery happened only after doctors petitioned and got special authorization from the Food and Drug Administration under its compassionate use policy. The policy allows people with life-threatening diseases and conditions to use medicines and devices not yet available to the public.

Declining health and a trial

The structural heart team at St. Francis has been taking part in trials from the medical device company Abbott Laboratories for a few years. The successes of those trials helped the team be selected by Abbott earlier this year to participate in a trial for a new transcatheter mitral valve replacement.

The other organizations selected are in New York City, Los Angeles and Europe, according to cardiologist Aziz Maksoud.

Technology and devices for the aortic valve had been developing for 15 years, but only in the last couple of years has the industry started developing devices for the mitral valve, Grizzell said.

Lohmeyer’s health had been declining for several years.

Lohmeyer, who had worked for several years at a Hutchinson organization that helps people with disabilities, became disabled in 2008 with degenerative disc disease.

About five years ago, her health started to decline further, leaving her on oxygen constantly.

She’d known for years about the leaking in the mitral valve, but found out about the additional mitral valve problem earlier this year. A few months ago, her doctor referred her to interventional cardiologist Bassem Chehab in Wichita.

Doctors knew the state-of-the-art surgery was her best chance.

Practicing surgery on 3D copies

The team has done other mitral valve surgeries with Abbott devices. This was a newer device meant to be even less invasive than the ones in the past.

To make it more complicated, this device was made for the leaky valve problem, which addressed part of Lohmeyer’s problem. She also had the narrow mitral valve problem.

The surgery uses a catheter to go through the groin and up to the heart. Typically, it involves a replacement valve that’s run through the catheter and up to the heart, then a balloon is expanded to press the valve in place, according to the Mayo Clinic. The surgery leaves roughly a half-inch scar.

Lohmeyer’s conditions led the doctors to come up with a modification. They put the valve in, inflated the balloon and cracked the valve so it would stay in place and help the heart function better.

“When you do stuff that’s this cutting edge, you’re basically contributing to the knowledge base that you will read in a textbook 20 years later,” Grizzell said. “It’s a new frontier without any history or guidance… and that’s why these kind of studies and procedures are so special. We are changing the way medicine is done for the next 50 years.”

Doctors began practicing the procedure on 3D models of Lohmeyer’s heart a couple of weeks before the procedure. They also did training sessions with Abbott engineers in the days leading up to the surgery.

The FDA received the petition to use the device on Nov. 14 and approved it the next day. Doctors ordered Lohmeyer’s surgery for the day after that.

The procedure is usually expected to take 30 minutes. Because of Lohmeyer’s conditions, each procedure took an hour.

Lohmeyer said she is glad her case may be able to help others.

“I feel honored,” she said, crying. “I’m very thankful. I’m happy that I can help other people. I am happy that it worked out for me so far.”

Planning the holidays

Lohmeyer woke up feeling like a different person. She walked around the recovery area able to breathe without oxygen.

She was discharged on Monday. She’s staying with her daughter, Alisha Mayberry, until she recovers.

“I think it’s great that she … has a chance to have a better life,” Mayberry said, adding she’s happy about the extended time her mother has with her family. “We have a very loving, close-knit family and for her to be able to be a part of it physically, mentally is great… the new chance is hopeful.”

Lohmeyer has some limitations because of the surgery. For now, she can’t run or drive.

“But after that, watch out, I’m on fire,” she said. “I’m on fire.”

She’s planning to attend her great-grandchildren’s sporting events and go on other outings. She said there’s a sparkle back in her eye, one that the nursing staff first pointed out to her when she woke up in recovery.

“(Staff) said I had a sparkle in my eye,” Lohmeyer said. “You know the last time I had a sparkle in my eye? I sure don’t know.”

Michael Stavola covers breaking news at The Wichita Eagle. He’s won a national and several state awards during his six years of working at newspapers in Kansas. He finished his MBA at Wichita State University in spring 2020. Michael likes to exercise, hunt and spend time with his wife and their dog, Marley.