John Burkowski, a retired social studies teacher, father of four and grandfather of five, has had an interesting life of “firsts”: He was in the first class at Miami Dade College, attended the first Miami Dolphins game ever played, and now, he’s the first patient at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute at South Miami Hospital to have TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement), a minimally invasive procedure that replaces the damaged aortic valve without removing it.

two doctors in surgical scrubsInterventional and structural cardiologist Phillip Erwin, M.D., Ph.D., who leads the South Miami Hospital TAVR team, along with cardiothoracic surgeon, Lisardo Garcia-Covarrubias, M.D., perform this life-saving procedure in a minimally invasive fashion by replacing the valve "long-distance" from the groin. “This allows for fewer complications than with traditional aortic valve surgery and patients are able to return to their full normal lives within days, not months,” said Dr. Erwin. For the past decade, TAVR has developed as a safer option for patients at high risk for open-heart surgery,” said Barry Katzen, M.D., founder and chief medical executive of Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute and Chief Medical Innovation Officer for Baptist Health South Florida.

“This is exciting news for patients who have come to think of South Miami Hospital as ‘their’ hospital, and can now have the procedure done here. Our patients receive academic medical-center quality within the familiarity of a community hospital. The cardiovascular teams at South Miami have a reputation for excellence. We have continued that tradition in our TAVR program,” said Dr. Erwin.

John already had a heart-rhythm disorder and was seeing cardiologist Jose Martel, M.D., who referred him to the team of Dr. Erwin and Dr. Garcia-Covarrubias as a great candidate for the TAVR procedure. But before John could have the procedure, he had a gallbladder attack.  Through the coordinated efforts of Dr. Erwin and the clinical teams at South Miami Hospital, John had successful gallbladder surgery and after fully recovering, was able to proceed with the TAVR procedure performed by Drs. Erwin and Garcia-Covarrubias. 

After hearing John’s story, one of his neighbors said, “You must be the unluckiest guy in the world!” John replied, “No, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. When you consider what could have gone wrong, I was very fortunate to be in the excellent hands of Drs. Erwin, Garcia-Covarrubias and the other physicians at South Miami Hospital. They saved my life.”  John and his wife, Sandra, had nothing but praise for everyone from his caregivers to the valet during his time at South Miami Hospital.

Help us share more stories like these. Despite countless advancements and new technologies, there is one fatality from heart disease every 37 seconds in the United States. Donor generosity is critical to funding clinical research and discovery that can lead to life-saving procedures like TAVR.

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