Freeman News

Freeman Celebrates Milestone: 200+ TAVR Surgeries

January 21, 2021

First to Offer and Soaring with the Minimally Invasive Heart Procedure

Joplin, MO – Freeman Health System Freeman celebrated the Freeman Heart & Vascular Institute and its transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) team by commemorating this impressive feat. Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer Paula F. Baker said the TAVR team achieved a milestone for four-state patients.

“More than three and a half years ago, Freeman became the first and only health system in the area to successfully perform TAVR,” Baker said. “Today we’re celebrating the completion of more than 200 TAVR procedures. That means we’ve helped improve the quality of life for more than 200 men and women and given them more time to live life to its fullest.”

Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Ray Vetsch said the community hospital is looking out for the community.

“We at Freeman have made the statement quite often that traveling is not necessary because we bring the new procedures and technology to town,” said Dr. Vetsch. “We have kept that promise, and it shows. We have already done more than 200 TAVRs with excellent outcomes – better than the national averages.”

“It is surreal,” said Dr. Ryan Longnecker, interventional cardiologist. “It feels like only yesterday that we did the first one. Number 100 was also memorable, and it is hard to believe have made it this far already.”

“TAVR is a game changing technology,” said Dr. John Cox, interventional cardiologist. “Patients commonly see immediate improvement. Having a program close to home is ideal as many candidates are not good candidates to travel.”

Patients with severe aortic stenosis (narrowing of the valve in the aorta) can’t risk open-heart surgery. That’s why surgeons at Freeman take a different approach by inserting a replacement valve in the aorta through a vein in the upper thigh. The TAVR procedure requires a team of surgeons and is done under general anesthesia.

“As technology is progressing, so is teamwork with the complexity of the procedures,” said Dr. Vetsch. “It takes a specialist to pull our forces together and work hand-in-hand for a better outcome.”

“Our program was designed to have interchangeable team members, yet each brings a unique skill set to enhance success and minimize complications,” said Dr. Cox.

“I feel it has made an even tighter bond between cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery teams,” said Dr. Longnecker. “We worked well together before, but we each bring a unique vision for our patients, which allows them to get the highest care possible. This is an incredible technology that is not only less invasive but also allows most patients to go home the day after having their aortic valve replaced. Most patients also have a significant reduction in symptoms prior to leaving the hospital.”

Patients go through a comprehensive screening process with the structural heart team prior to the procedure, and then that same team of physicians places the patient’s new heart valve and also does follow-up care offering consistency that is important to the patient.

“Cardiovascular care takes a village to be successful, and when you know everyone in that village, it is more comforting than putting your life in a stranger’s hands,” Dr. Longnecker said.

The TAVR team includes cardiothoracic surgeon Ray Vetsch, MD; cardiologist John Nicholas, MD; cardiologist John Cox, DO; cardiologist Ryan Longnecker, MD; and cardiologist Darwin Jeyaraj, MD.




About Freeman Health System

Locally owned, not-for-profit and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital and Ozark Center – the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services – as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. In 2020, Freeman earned dozens of individual awards for medical excellence and patient safety from CareChex®, a quality rating system that helps consumers evaluate healthcare providers. U.S. News & World Report named Freeman Health System the Best Hospital in Southwest Missouri for 2020. With more than 320 physicians on staff representing more than 80 specialties, Freeman provides cancer care, heart care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services and women’s services. Additionally, Freeman is the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in a 70-mile radius. For more information, visit