From Deathbed to Champagne

The 57-year-old cardiac patient was a dead man walking... Hours later, he was enjoying champagne.

This wasn't your typical postoperative reception. But then again, this was France. And what had just happened was history in the making.

A few days before, the man came to Dr. Alain Cribier for treatment at the Charles Nicolle University Hospital in Rouen.

The doctor and his team did everything they could. But by now, the patient didn't have much time left. His face was black. He was dying.

His heart was failing from a common heart condition called aortic stenosis ("AS"). It's a condition that results from a narrowing in one of the major heart valves.

Eventually, the narrowing valve restricts blood flow to the body, making the heart work harder.

What might begin with shortness of breath and chest pain can ultimately end with a death sentence. And once it got far enough, there was almost nothing any doctor could do.

For Cribier's patient, the window to intervene with existing treatments had closed. If the patient had been stronger and healthier, he could have had open-heart surgery to place a prosthetic valve.

But at this point, no surgeon was going to operate on him... He'd likely die on the operating table. Three separate surgical teams had passed at the chance.

Cribier wasn't ready to give up on him yet, though...

As an interventional cardiologist specializing in working with catheters, he'd seen plenty of similar cases over the years. He'd even taught about them as a professor of medicine at the University of Rouen.

To say that it rubbed him the wrong way would be an understatement... He'd become a doctor to help people... not send them home to die.

So in his spare time, Cribier had been developing a radical new method to replace the aortic valve without open-heart surgery. It was a technique he'd long considered while running the catheterization lab at Rouen.

You see, catheters were already being used to place heart stents without intrusive surgeries. And he believed the answers to treating inoperable aortic stenosis lay in implementing the same less-invasive approach.

He had carefully perfected the technique over more than a decade.

But even with proof-of-concept studies performed on cadavers and animals, the medical community – especially cardiac surgeons – unanimously rejected the idea.

Given the condition of his patient though, Cribier got the go-ahead to use his procedure in an attempt to save the man's life.

He and his team went to work. They had to improvise the procedure in a noisy catheterization lab. They didn't have the equipment on hand that you'd normally have for a heart surgery. They didn't need it.

So with the man receiving local anesthesia, Cribier and his team were able to run their catheter into his heart, inflating a balloon to pop the valve into place... all with just a small incision in the patient's leg.

Then, a few minutes after the successful procedure... the condition reversed.

Cribier describes it all in an interview published last year in Cardiac Interventions Today. Despite the 20 years that have now passed, he explains how vivid his memories of that day still are...

It is hard to describe the emotion of the entire team when we observed the color of the patient's face passing from black to gray and gray to pink within minutes and the patient smiling and thanking everyone... A few tears flowed among the team. It was a dream come true.

Hours later, they were popping a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

In the face of such widespread opposition, Cribier's story is one of triumph and perseverance. And it's thanks to him that the narrative finally changed.

Today, the procedure is called transcatheter aortic valve replacement ("TAVR"). It's used to treat desperate, inoperable cases of AS... And it has ushered in a new era for cardiac surgery even for patients who aren't on their deathbeds.

Stories like this fascinate me. Ever since I earned my MD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I've been able to watch the world of medicine make leaps and bounds. We can do procedures and treatments today that my previous professors could only dream of.

Thanks to advances in technology, medicine can save a lot more lives than it could a few decades ago.

And we're only getting started...

Artificial intelligence ("AI") has been a mainstay in the news over the past couple years. It has long been overhyped. But AI has made its way into medicine and is revolutionizing everything.

I'm so excited about what treatments doctors will be able to do in the coming future, thanks to AI. And I'm also excited about the investment opportunities in the best health care companies that are using these new technologies.

I'm not a person who goes on record much, making wild predictions. But I'm so sure that health care is at the start of a major boom...

I'm going on record today calling my research and investment advice on health care my legacy.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to watch a presentation I recently put together that details the opportunity you have as an investor in the world of medicine.

This presentation won't be around for much longer. Click here for all the details.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 5, 2024