Dell Children's pioneering non-invasive heart valve replacement in Central Texas

13-year-old Alyson Hunter wants to be a nurse when she grows up.  Specialty: cardiology.

"I want to be able to share my personal experience with other kids," Hunter said.

Her career path is inspired in part by what happened at Dell Children's Medical Center on March 2.  A cutting edge procedure -- very different from her past hospital visits.
Dell Children's Chief of Cardiology Dr. Byron Holt says Alyson was born with Tetrology of Felot, the most common complex heart condition.  He says most kids have an operation the first month or two of life to allow enough blood flow to the lungs.  And often they're left with a valve that's not functioning very well.

"For Alyson, she had had several surgeries leading up to this point most recently to replace a valve in that area but it's with non-living tissue that wears out over time," Dr. Holt said.

Alyson's mom Cammie Olah said open-heart surgery was a tough thing for Alyson to go through.

"With open-heart she was covered with wires and tubes and cords and it's really hard to see your child lying in bed like that," Olah said. 

Dell Children's is the first in Central Texas to offer non-invasive heart valve replacement using a technique recently approved by the FDA.  It's made for patients who have already had heart surgery, they just need valve replacement.
Dr. Holt explains how it's done, using Medtronics "Melody" Transcatheter Pulmonary Valve, made from part of a cow, treated and then sewn inside of a stint.  The stint is put onto a balloon and sent through a long plastic tube in the leg vessel and up to the heart.

"Once in place, you expand the balloon, the stint expands and presses against the side of the wall and then the catheter and balloon are removed and you're left with a valve suspended inside of a stint replacing the pulmonary valve," Holt said.

And for Alyson, a Giddings Middle School cheerleader, the recovery was quick.

"She was back at school on a Monday after a Thursday procedure," Dr. Holt said.

"I was able to go back to cheerleading, I like to dance and jump on the trampoline and play basketball and other sports and I was able to get back to them right away and I was pretty happy about that because I didn't want to be down for a really long time like I was before," Hunter said.

"It's kind of neat because when she did have her surgery when she was 7 years old our cardiologist then had mentioned that this procedure might be a possibility and it seemed like years and years away, almost unreal like 'wow that's hopefully we see that in our lifetime' and here we are," Olah said.