Donors Elevate Heart Care Close to Home

Reidun Erickson, 76, coached herself to “just heal yourself” until Benefis Teton Medical Center Physician Assistant Rebecca Preston advised her that wasn’t likely to be a solution to her shortness of breath and the recurrent pain from her shoulder to her wrist. 

“I didn’t want to be cracked open, and I wanted to back out,” Reidun said. 

But there was another way that offered Reidun a less-intensive intervention.

Benefis Foundation donors have invested $200,000 toward upgrades to the cardiac catheterization lab. The contribution is part of a significant project creating a hybrid cath lab/operating room with better technology, lower radiation exposure for staff and patients, improved imaging, and expanded treatment availability close to home for patients. 

The goal is to continue to expand the structural heart offerings at Benefis, with more new procedures soon to follow. This will make a meaningful difference for our patients, such as reducing travel and increasing the number of patients who qualify for a procedure who may have been ruled out by the rigors of open-heart surgery.

At Rebecca’s urging, Reidun entered the Heart and Vascular program and became one of the first people to receive a transcatheter aortic valve replacement at Benefis, performed by interventional cardiologist Dr. Shawn Kelly and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Steven Bailey.

A typical valve replacement involves a three-to-five-hour operation, four to seven days in the ICU,  weakness, and the physiological and psychological work of healing from open-heart surgery. With TAVR, the patient has local anesthesia and sedation. They don't feel pain, they don't have a wound to heal, they have far less chance of picking up an infection, and they're home the next day. As soon as the new valve is in place, the patient is healed. 

The difference was instant for Reidun. The first thing she noticed was her breathing was no longer labored. She said hadn’t even realized how sick she was until after the surgery. Now people tell her she’s glowing.

 “I feel like I’m on top of the world, like I’m 25 again,” she told structural heart coordinator Jessica Osweiler, RN, before a tearful hug. “Thank you for everything. Thank you for listening. I love you, 
and I’m so fortunate to have this team.”