The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Local man saved by cutting-edge cardiac technology


April 29, 2020

DENNIS EGGERS gets a checkup from Physician's Assistant Katherine Rajotte during a post-op visit to Oregon Health Sciences University.

In the aftermath of the ice storm of 2017, Dennis Eggers set to work cutting up and moving 20 of the cedar trees he and his wife lost that winter.

Little did he know, his effort would set into motion a series of events that would ultimately save his life – just in time.

As he cut up the trees, Eggers started feeling chest pain. His wife, Janet Eggers, said he'd never had problems with his heart before. But Dennis was entering his 70s at that point, so she wanted him to see a doctor.

Doctors diagnosed angina and pulmonary hypertension, and multiple diagnoses also pointed to tricuspid valve regurgitation at 65 percent.

"Your tricuspid valve has three leaflets in it, and one of them wasn't closing properly," Dennis explained. "The blood would go forward and then leak back through the valve."

Doctors, however, didn't want to perform open heart surgery because they didn't think her husband could survive the surgery, Janet said.

Dennis wasn't too interested in that option, either.

"All that mess you go through, months of recovery and no real improvement."

That was the beginning of a chain of events that resulted in Dennis becoming the first person in Oregon to have that problem repaired without open heart surgery.

Oregon Health and Science University invited Dennis to take part in a clinical trial using the Edwards Lifesciences' PASCAL transcatheter valve repair system device to fix the leak. The device essentially clips the valve like a clothespin, and is placed in the heart without making a single cut to the chest.

"They came in through the femoral artery, which are in your legs, and they threaded completely up through that to my heart and through my heart," Dennis said.

It took a year before the procedure would be available to Dennis.

Meanwhile, a visit to the emergency room in Lebanon led to the discovery of a spot on Dennis' lung. It wasn't life-threatening at the moment, so they made a mental note to keep an eye on it.

One summer night in 2018, Dennis woke Janet up to tell her he wasn't feeling well. He went into atrial fibrillation.

They went to the emergency room at Lebanon, where Janet says "they brought him back."

"Thank God the EMTs from Sweet Home Fire Department, and the ER doc," she noted.

The following spring, doctors had determined it was time to go in and remove the upper right lobe because the nodule in Dennis' lung was growing. By having the lobe removed, more stress was placed on the heart to pump blood with less air, Janet said.

He was placed on oxygen. Using a condenser with 50 feet of line, the family cats would follow the tubing around the house and bite into it.

Janet laughed.

"Those are the things you don't think about. He'd go around and duct tape some of them."

Five months later, the Eggers got a call from OHSU. They wanted to try the Edwards valve repair procedure on Dennis.

They didn't really want to hassle with anything more by that point, Janet said. They sat in their chairs, kind of content thinking they could go on with their lives quietly, with Dennis using a portable oxygen tank.

"I thought we could coast with his life that way. Then he said he didn't think he'd be able to make it. He couldn't breathe anymore."

So they agreed to the trial.

When Dennis went in for the procedure, his regurgitation rate was a plus-four, Janet said. That means there was 70 percent regurgitation flowing back into his atrium and ventrical.

"After he had the surgery December 11, overnight he went from a plus-four regurgitation to a plus-one. It was like a miracle," Janet said.

Dennis noticed the change, too.

"Before, I was working my way to death. No energy, no anything. Basically, I could do nothing."

The lung surgery didn't help. He was only getting worse, and the pair started shopping for headstones.

"After (the procedure), it was just like somebody flipped the switch. It was instant. The next morning, I felt very good and full of energy," he said.

He went home the next day.

"He really wasn't gonna make it if this valve hadn't been invented," Janet said. "We were just fortunate with the timing."

DENNIS EGGERS, with his wife Janet, is greeted during a visit to OHSU after his surgery. Eggers' heart valve did not fully close, a potentially fatal problem that was addressed by an artificial valve that was inserted into his heart via a brand-new technique that did not require open heart surgery.

Janet still does the heavy lifting on their small farm in Sweet Home, but Dennis spends his days walking, cutting the lawn and reading. He's experiencing a quality of life that doesn't make him feel like he's going to die, Janet said.

"I can get around very well now. The COVID is the only real hold-up at this point," Dennis said.

He noted his wife, though, is more concerned about COVID than he is.

"I'm very overly protective of him right now," Janet said. "I'm like a pitbull, because I don't want anybody near him because of the COVID."

Dennis doesn't know how long his life has been extended, but he was given less than a year if he hadn't done the procedure, he said.

"Everybody in the valley needs to know about this, that the procedure can be done with a catheter," Janet said.

"It's no big deal. They just need a good ecocardiogram grapher to follow this thing as it leads up through the artery. It's a simple procedure.

"They gave him his life back. What a difference in his thinking, in the energy level and everything, from having blood go everywhere instead of flooding back into his heart all the time."


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