A less invasive option is now available to patients, and St. Vincent Health System in Little Rock is one of the few in the state performing the operation.
Jo Ann Winstead is one of the few people to have the new technique done.
"I did have a very good cardiologist in Fort Smith who watched this for years. Did annual echocardiograms and he noticed that my heart was enlarging and it was time that I had this valve repaired," she explains.
Winstead was referred to cardiovascular surgeon Mike Bauer at St. Vincent.
"She definitely had a bad valve and it was definitely going to be a problem for her," Dr. Bauer says. "We went on and did it because we could do it minimally invasive. She wasn't very keen on a big surgical scar and we were able to repair her valve, which is important, rather than replace it."
Bauer is one of only a few surgeons in Arkansas who performs minimally invasive heart surgery.
Instead of the traditional sternotomy, surgeons make a small incision directly over the valve and use a transesophogeal echo to watch the heart. This results in less pain, a quicker recovery and less risk for infection.
The technique has an extensive learning curve and isn't commonly done. Bauer notes St. Vincent has probably conducted about 150 procedures within the last two years.
"People don't really go home any faster, it's still a big operation," Bauer adds. "They go home in three or four days. But what happens is about the second week, they just skyrocket forward where a sternotomy would have been at two months."
Winstead is very pleased with the results, "I have a very small, maybe two-inch incision on the right side of my chest that is hidden. I guess if I was brave enough, I could wear a bikini and nobody would ever know that I had heart surgery," she says.
Winstead is just happy for now to be symptom free and back on the golf course six weeks after surgery.