May Brown’s story

July 26th, 2012

As a former Vancouver city councillor and physical education instructor, May Brown had devoted her life to community service and physical activity. But after finding herself short of breath during a routine walk, Brown learned that life was at risk due to a failing heart valve.

“I found myself deteriorating, had to be sure I had someone with me on a walk, found I had to hold onto railings all the time and be careful on steps,” recalls the Order of Canada recipient.

The condition could potentially have led to her death, but open-heart surgery to correct the problem was not an option due to scar tissue left behind by radiation treatments she had undergone two decades earlier to treat esophageal cancer.

Brown did, however, fit the criteria for an innovative, minimally invasive procedure known as transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI), which was pioneered by St. Paul’s interventional cardiologist Dr. John Webb and his team.

The TAVI procedure is performed by making a tiny incision at the top of the leg, then inserting a collapsible valve on a catheter and guiding it to her heart through her circulatory system. Webb became the first in North America to complete the procedure in 2005, and now more than 10,000 have been performed worldwide.

“It was marvelous the attention I got,” Brown says. “I felt that everybody I had anything to do with was so effi cient, so capable and so enthusiastic about what they were doing that it made me feel very optimistic.”

Within 24 hours of receiving her new heart valve, Brown was on her feet. Within a week, she was back home and ready to start walking again. Today, at the age of 92,

Brown says she feels great.

“St. Paul’s is a tremendous institution,” Brown says. “When you mention St. Paul’s, people know you’re talking about a dedicated staff and a wonderful hospital that’s at the forefront of a good deal of the medicine we’re practicing in British Columbia.”