COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Dozens of people gathered at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - College Station for a huge announcement Wednesday. Medical professionals announced the launch of the transcather aortic valve replacement (TAVR) program. They call it a breakthrough for patients with aortic stenosis in the Brazos Valley.

It had originally been approved by the FDA in 2011 for only high-risk surgical patients, but as of 2019 that has changed.

"Our patients now have options here in College Station," said Dr. William Rayburn, chief medical officer.

According to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - College Station, aortic stenosis is a common disease that affects roughly 1.5 million Americans. It happens when the heart's aortic valve narrows and blocks blood flow from the heart to the aorta.

"The natural history of aortic stenosis is a spiraling downhill course," said Dr. William Gray, the medical director for the Structural Heart Program at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - College Station.

Before TAVR, there was open heart surgery. Sick patients who were not cleared for surgery could not undergo that route.

"Traditional open aortic surgery requires a sternotomy, which is a incision on the sternum which is on the front of the chest," said Dr. Charles Smith, the cardiovascular surgeon at Cardiovascular Surgery of Brazos Valley.

The TAVR program puts a catheter through a small needle puncture, typically, through the leg. It delivers a new aortic valve in the heart. The surgery is considered safe for even the sickest patients.

"The partner trial really proved that a minimally invasive approach replacing this valve was valid, safe and effective," Gray said.

Besides fewer complications, this procedure also speeds up recovery time.

"The recovery is just limited by a needle puncture in the groin, rather than a big incision in the front of the chest," Smith said.

Recovery time is one to three days, with some patients being discharged the next day.

For TAVR patients like Nathalie Hilliard, a speedy recovery is important so that she can keep up with life.

"It is wonderful," said Hilliard. "My grandchildren and great grand children appreciate it because they have their Nonni back."

Hilliard had the surgery four weeks ago and said she felt better very quick.

"I get to go watch my granddaughter play volleyball and I get to do things that before I did not have the energy to do," Hilliard said.

Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - College Station is the first and only hospital between Temple and Houston to offer this procedure.