Updated March 24 at 12:29am

Five Questions With Shirley Dexter

First patient in R.I. to undergo a new procedure at Rhode Island Hospital, in which a collapsible aortic heart valve is placed into the body via the femoral artery in the thigh, talks about the groundbreaking process.

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Five Questions With Shirley Dexter


Shirley Dexter, 88, of North Scituate, was the first patient in Rhode Island to undergo a new procedure at Rhode Island Hospital, in which a collapsible aortic heart valve is placed into the body via the femoral artery in the thigh.

The valve is designed to replace a patient’s diseased aortic valve without traditional open-heart surgery, while the heart continues to beat, precluding the need for cardiopulmonary bypass.

The procedure, known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, uses the Edwards Sapien Valve, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November 2011.

The surgery took place on March 20, and Dexter said that she has noticed an immediate improvement in her condition, which before found her often short of breath, fatigued and having to pause while climbing steps.

Providence Business News talked with Dexter to get the patient’s eye view of the groundbreaking procedure.

PBN: How long were you in the hospital?

DEXTER: I was admitted on Monday, March 19, a day early, and the surgery started at 7:30 a.m. the next morning. Because it is was the first time [for the procedure], there were some 30 people in the operating room. They wanted to see that it turned out well. It was quite an operation. I went home that Friday.

PBN: Do you have any restrictions after the operation?

DEXTER: I had no limitations except not to lift anything more than 10 pounds and to do only what I felt like doing.

PBN: Have you noticed an immediate improvement”

DEXTER: The first thing I think of, our garage is under our house, we have to go up 14, 15 steps to get the main level. Before, I used to have to stop about three times, and when I got into the regular part of our home, I would collapse in a chair.

Now, I can make them all now, with a little rest. My husband has noticed this change, especially.

PBN: When you found out that you were going to be the first one to undergo the procedure, did that make your or your family nervous?

DEXTER: I had talked with quite a few doctors. They finally told me, very casually, you’re going to be number one. My daughter, who’s a nurse, had an initial reaction, “Gee, Mom, I don’t know if I like that idea.” But now, everyone in my family is very happy that I was the first one.

PBN: How does it feel being the first patient in Rhode Island to have this procedure done?

DEXTER: They had to get four or five people to agree to do this before they could go ahead. I said yes, because I didn’t want to have open-heart surgery. I live in North Scituate. I was born here, and I still live here, for 88 years. I’ve been married 66 years. I had all the faith in the doctors who operated on me. And, I am so happy that I had the procedure done.


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