Father and son, pioneering hearts

Family tradition of groundbreaking WVU surgeries continues with TAVR

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – According to the history books, American pioneers have traditionally headed west. As a member of the University of Minnesota team that performed the world’s first open heart surgery, Herbert Warden, M.D., bucked that trend when he was recruited to establish a cardiothoracic surgery program at West Virginia University. In March of 1962, Dr. Warden’s hands deftly performed the first such operation in West Virginia, followed by the first pacemaker implantation later that year. Flash forward 52 years, and a familiar name would again be part of a pioneering cardiovascular care team at WVU.
In March of this year, Dr. Herbert Warden’s son, Bradford Warden, M.D., director of the WVU Heart Institute and section chief of cardiology, was a member of the multidisciplinary physician team as WVU Healthcare performed its first transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). TAVR allows physicians to replace a damaged aortic valve without opening the chest. Through a catheter inserted at the groin, a collapsible replacement valve is placed into the aortic valve’s location.

“Traditional valve replacement has involved going in through an open chest,” the younger Dr. Warden explained. “TAVR is comparable to getting a stent placed in an artery. This allows patients at high risk for the open surgery to not only undergo a valve replacement but also benefit from a faster recovery.”

Once in place, the new valve takes over the job of regulating blood flow. A patient whose life expectancy might have only been 12 months can now gain greater longevity -- in addition to improved quality of life. Marlinton resident Charles Richardson, 86 years old and the first TAVR patient at WVU Healthcare, had suffered extreme weakness and exhaustion due to a failing aortic valve and poor circulation.

“I could certainly tell the difference when I became conscious after this procedure,” said Richardson. “I was 100 percent better, and I was amazed. I have nothing but the highest praise for the doctors here. I didn’t expect any results like that. I could breathe, without difficulty, and just felt better mentally. My whole body felt better. I had a lot of swelling in my legs, and it was gone because the circulation was going again.”

Richardson’s surgical team of 15 people, including seven physicians, was comparable in size to the one the younger Warden’s father led in 1962. Recognized internationally as a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, Herbert Warden was adored and respected by patients, students, and faculty. To young Brad, the 30th baby born in the new University Hospital on the hill (now the WVU Health Sciences Center), he was just Dad.

Hooding.jpgWhen Brad decided to leave his position as manager of Mylan Pharmaceuticals product development to go to medical school at 29, his father was naturally thrilled but wanted Brad to know exactly what he was pursuing.

“He said, ‘Why are you doing this? You have a great job and a great future. Why are you going back to medical school?’” Warden chuckled.  “He was very excited, don’t get me wrong. But I knew I didn’t have to be a doctor to be somebody special to him. My brother and sisters all chose different career paths including sales, real estate development and engineering. He loved and was really interested in all the things they were doing. He loved that I was going to medical school, but from a practical aspect, he knew the long nights and the difficult road ahead.”

The elder Warden changed with the times. In addition to his surgical journals, he always read the New England Journal of Medicine and would circle articles and put them in Brad’s Department of Medicine mailbox, with a note that might read, ‘You should read this; it’s interesting.’ One can only speculate what the surgical pioneer who passed in 2002 would think of TAVR.

“A couple of years ago, this technology did not exist in the United States, outside of trials,” said Wissam Gharib, M.D., Director of WVU Healthcare’s cardiac catheterization lab and lead physician of Mr. Richardson’s TAVR. “Now we’re able to offer this revolutionary procedure here in Morgantown to these very sick patients.”

To learn more about the WVU Heart Institute, visit http://wvuhealthcare.com/wvuh/Hospitals-Clinics/Heart-Institute/Heart-Institute-Home.

Photos: (Top) The WVU team that performed the state’s first open heart surgery was led by Dr. Herbert Warden in 1962. This photo appears in “Generation of Growth: A Contemporary View of the West Virginia University School of Medicine.”

(Bottom) Dr. Herbert Warden had the honor of hooding his son, Dr. Brad Warden, at Brad’s WVU School of Medicine commencement in 1997.


For more information:
Leigh Limerick, Communications Specialist, 304-293-7087
lal: 06-11-14

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