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Wake Forest doctors ‘perform a miracle’ when man’s heart valve stops working

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Jack Vynalek, 66, was just minutes from death when his heart valve stopped working.

"I'm thankful," said Vynalek. "I'm extremely thankful that I am alive today."

Born with an abnormal heart valve, Vynalek had it replaced in 2014 with a bovine valve. In February, in what doctors say is extremely rare, his valve stopped working.

"Patients like that die within minutes," said David Zhao, M.D., chief of cardiovascular medicine and executive director of Wake Forest Baptist's Heart and Vascular Center. Zhao says Vynalek's positive outcome came thanks to his close proximity to the hospital and a team of doctors at Wake Forest Baptist making fast decisions.

"The team has been working together for a long time, so we know each other, every move and how we do it and that's what really saved him," Zhao said.

In just a few minutes, the team of doctors decided and replaced the valve with a Trans Catheter Aortic Valve (TAVR), something the hospital has been doing since 2011.

But this team of doctors would be the first in the region to perform an emergency valve replacement.

"It was very important for us to have this tool to offer him," said Ted Kincaid, M.D., chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

Through a catheter in the leg to the aorta, doctors inserted the compressed replacement valve and with advanced imaging they were able to put the valve in place.

"We felt very fortunate that we had this less invasive procedure that could be performed immediately,” Kincaid said.

Wake Forest Baptist has performed more than 500 TAVR cases since 2011, according to doctors.

"So many things had to align for it to be successful," said Vynalek. "Quite frankly, [doctors] performed a miracle and it’s the grace of God that I'm alive today."