Couple with same heart disorders undergo same procedure

Joseph and Marie Nigro, of New Hyde Park, both survived a rare heart surgery performed by doctors at North Shore- Long Island Jewish Health System. Videojournalist: Johnny Milano (Aug. 28, 2013) 

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Joseph and Marie Nigro of New Hyde Park were not ideal patients for open heart surgery.

Married nearly 67 years, both suffered from the same disorder -- aortic stenosis -- a progressive narrowing of the valve between the heart's left ventricle and the aorta, the body's largest artery.

Both had trouble getting enough oxygen to thrive.

Without medical intervention, a marriage that had begun shortly after World War II, was certain to have an ironic end: two hearts irrevocably damaged by the same disease.

But doctors at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park suggested a minimally invasive solution to extend the pair's lives -- and the health of both hearts.

Marie, 90, said she would undergo the procedure if her husband would get it first. Joseph, 92, said he was willing because the effects of the disease were making life difficult.

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"Before, when I was tying my shoe, I would have like a sigh when I bent over," he said, recalling his painful shortness of breath. "I would have to sit back in the chair and pray to God I could breathe better," Nigro, a retired lithographer, said.

Joseph underwent the procedure in June. His success inspired Marie to do the same in July and the couple is doing well.

Drs. S. Jacob Scheinerman, vice chairman of cardiothoracic surgery at LIJ, and Barry Kaplan, vice chairman of cardiology, said the procedure -- transcatheter aortic valve replacement -- could increase the quality of life -- and quantity of years -- for the silver-haired pair.

Scheinerman noted the inpatient procedure -- which takes a little more than an hour -- provides a new option for older patients who otherwise would not be candidates for open heart surgery, the traditional method to replace a faulty valve.

An estimated 250,000 people have aortic valve stenosis, the doctors estimated Wednesday.

"This procedure is beneficial for anyone who is high risk," Scheinerman told a news briefing Wednesday.

Pioneered on Long Island by Dr. Newell Robinson of St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill in 2011 when he performed it on a 92-year-old, the procedure borrows from a technique long used to implant stents in clogged arteries: threading a catheter through a small incision in the groin -- but involves securing a valve instead of a stent.

Robinson helped prove the procedure can be used to implant a healthy porcine valve inside the damaged native one. The couple received bovine valves. Once inserted, the new ones function immediately.

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While Marie said she's looking forward to their 67th wedding anniversary in November, Joseph ruminated about the prospects of living another decade.

"That's what they tell me," he said. "I got 10 years [added] to my life. I'll be 102."

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