Kenmore resident Joan LaDuca celebrated her 100th birthday last December with a newly-mended heart. Her doctors and the cardiac team from the Catholic Health Heart Center at Mercy Hospital were pleased to play an important role in the centenarian’s ongoing health and longevity, which continues today.

Just six months earlier at the age of 99, LaDuca underwent a TAVR procedure (pronounced ta-var), short for transcatheter aortic valve replacement, to treat aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve, which can be a life-threatening condition.

TAVR is one of the most significant advances in cardiac care in the past decade. First approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 for high-risk patients only, TAVR was expanded for use in 2019 and is now available to most patients in need of aortic valve repair.

The minimally invasive procedure replaces damaged aortic valves through a tiny catheter, which gives many people who may be too high-risk for traditional open-heart surgery — especially older adults — a non-surgical option to treat heart valve disease.

Mercy’s Structural Heart team began performing TAVR in late 2015 and reached its 500th TAVR milestone in 2021. LaDuca was the guest of honor at a special celebration to mark the occasion and took the opportunity to thank her physicians and caregivers. At the ceremony, LaDuca said she had been experiencing severe shortness of breath and dizziness prior to the TAVR procedure, but just one day after the procedure when she returned home from the hospital, she already felt much better. “Everybody needs to know about this,” she said, “it has made such a difference in my life and it can help many others too.”

Cardiac surgeon Dr. Stephen Downing, Chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Catholic Health and Medical Director of the TAVR team at Mercy Hospital, describes the “valve within a valve” procedure, “We thread a small catheter, tipped with a replacement valve, through a blood vessel in the leg or chest and guide it to the heart. Once in place across the existing heart valve, the new valve is expanded, pushing the unhealthy valve aside to take over regulating blood flow in the heart.”

“We are grateful for this breakthrough technology which allows us to help people, many in their 80s or 90s, who we couldn’t help before,” Dr. Downing added. “Recovery is also much faster, usually two or three days, and patients are able to resume normal activities sooner than with open heart surgery. I have had TAVR patients tell me they feel better right away, are steadier on their feet and experience less shortness of breath.”

Today, TAVR has become the leading choice for aortic valve replacement compared to open heart surgery, with more than 90,000 procedures performed in the U.S. in 2021.

To expand its TAVR program, the Heart Center at Mercy Hospital recently welcomed Interventional Cardiologists Dalvir Gill, MD, and Michael Wilber, MD, who joined Dr. Downing and Cardiac Surgeon Harsh Jain, MD, on its TAVR team. Both Dr. Gill and Dr. Wilber are part of Trinity Medical Cardiology, a multi-specialty physician network that practices within Catholic Health.

Backed by longstanding national quality recognitions, the Heart Center at Mercy Hospital was pleased to announce that it recently earned a High Performance Hospital rating in Heart Attack Care by U.S. News & World Report. The team also touts the highest three-star quality rating for heart bypass surgery from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and continues to attain quality achievement awards in heart attack care from the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines® program.

For more information on the TAVR procedure at Catholic Heath visit

Find a Cardiologist Near You
Call (716) 706-2113

Find a Cardiologist Near You
Call (716) 706-2113