GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Think of the last time you did something first, overcame an obstacle, or tried something new. Though it's not easy leading others into uncharted medical territory, a bow-hunting grandmother found herself becoming a medical milestone by undergoing a first-of-its-kind procedure in the U.S.
This past September, Vicki Vergote became the 40th patient in the world and the first in the U.S. to receive an innovative new heart device, a Figulla flex fenestrated atrial septal defect device.
Doctors performed the procedure in Grand Rapids at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.
"I’m not one to make a big deal out of things like that," Vergote said. "I forget I’m the first one in the United States."
Vergote says she's blessed and that she's feeling really, really good. It's a far cry from how she felt before.
Eight years ago, as she battled bronchitis, doctors told Vergote she had pulmonary hypertension, a chronic illness that causes high blood pressure.
Since she experienced little to no symptoms, Vergote continued on with life until summer 2015, when her condition got worse. Vergote began to find herself out of breath all of the time. Doctors eventually found a 27-millimeter hole in her heart, diagnosing her with an atrial septal defect.
"When they told me it was congenital, I was like, uh, how can it be congenital?" she said.
Not even a year later, in January 2016, Vergote met Dr. Joseph Vettukattil, who told her he had a plan. It involved saving Vergote's life with the Figulla flex heart device, which he had used several times overseas but never here in the United States.
Several months and an FDA approval later, Dr. Vettukattil implanted the round mesh device into Vergote's heart.
"[The] Figula flex device is specifically engineered to have a hole in the middle, so when the blood pressure raises, it can shunt the blood from the right heart to the left heart" Dr. Vettukattil said.
The device has a six-millimeter hole that allows blood to pass between the right and left atria of the heart.
Now, Vergote's heart is pumping blood better than ever, bumping her status to a U.S. medical first.
So far, the device, which costs $9,000, is not available in the U.S., though the FDA approved the Figula flex device before it was implanted in Vergote's heart.