Before he had ever appeared on TV, Dr Oz invented a tiny device he hoped could save the lives of patients with failing hearts.
Two days ago, proof that it does was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr Oz’s invention is designed to close up a leaky heart valve condition that threatens the lives of two million Americans.
The conventional fix for this common path to heart failure requires open heart surgery to replace the valve but the procedure is risky, and about 40 percent that need it never get it.
That may soon change, now that a Columbia University trial has shown that Dr Oz’s device can be inserted through the groin to mend leaky hearts much more safely than open heart surgery could.
The MitraClip (white) that Dr Oz invented 20 years ago offers a simple, non-invasive way to make leaky heart valves seal again at a 40 percent lower risk of death for patients
One in every four deaths in the US is from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Heart disease encompasses a large constellation of cardiovascular problems, including damage to and failure of the four valves of the heart.
These valves are just flaps of tissue, but their function is far more crucial than their simplicity lets one.
Blood should only flow in one direction through the heart’s chambers, and the valves open and close to ensure that it does.
‘Imagine a sail: if it gets pulled apart, it no longer captures the wind,’ Dr Oz explained to Daily Mail Online.
‘In this case, the wind is the blood, and it starts to leak back into the heart.’
A diseased heart is already operating below optimal efficiency, and is not as strong as a healthy one, ‘so add the leaking valve and it becomes super inefficient,’ says Dr Oz.
Dr Oz, a cardiothoracic specialist who still operates one day a week, says that normally he and other heart surgeons have to crack open a person’s chest, cut out the faulty valve and replace it with a mechanical one, one donated from a human, or an animal tissue valve.
In recent years, doctors have developed more minimally-invasive techniques, but still the rate of complications is high.
Most replacement surgeries are for either the aortic or the mitral valve, and complications arise in about 35 percent of replacements for the latter.
The mitral or bicuspid valve is the only one of the four that has just two rather than three flaps.
Some 20 years ago, Dr Oz heard another scientist, Ottavio Alfieri, speak about mitral valve leaks at a conference in Italy. Alfieri said that in most of the cases he had seen, those two flaps not only didn’t seal, they never even touched.
If they didn’t touch there was no way they could form a seal and prevent blood from back-flowing. But if the two pieces did touch, blood flow might force them into a seal.
Dr Oz (left) has patented a number of inventions but is especially proud of the MitraClip (right) because of its clinical value to save patients’ lives without risking open heart surgery
After hearing the presentation, Dr Oz thought: ‘What if we could just make it like a zipper? If it catches in one place, it will zip up?’
‘Maybe with just one stitch, it will close up.’
Dr Oz flew back to the US shortly thereafter and claims he wrote the patent for what is now known as the MitraClip on the flight.
The patent described ‘a stitch you put in with a clip, like a staple at the end of a catheter so you could go in from the groin,’ Dr Oz explains.
A surgeon can simply snake the camera with the clip attached through the body cavity until it reaches the mitral valve. Then the clip grasps the two flaps, and stitches them together in one place.
‘It’s covert, like a sniper, it just sneaks in, and you stitch it together in one place so it just zips up,’ Dr Oz says.
In a trial of the device, led by Dr Gregory Stone at Columbia University, 302 out of 614 patients with leaking valve were treated with the new MitraClip procedure over the last several years.
In the two years following their procedures, those who got the MitraClip were 47 percent less likely to wind up in the hospital for heart disease again afterwards.
They were also nearly 40 percent less likely to die over the course of that follow-up period.
‘This idea has actually become something that will have a massive impact on heart failure, so we can fix valves without killing patients,’ says Dr Oz.
Finding out that his ‘back of the envelope idea’ could save lives was an ‘orgasmic’ experience, he told Daily Mail Online, comparing it to winning a Nobel Prize.
‘I know it sounds corny, but you get goose bumps,’ he says.
‘It’s a truly euphoric feeling to know you witnessed history. For a doctor, this is the pinnacle for us, this is what you strive for.’