Doctors at the University of Alberta have for the first time performed a heart procedure aimed at helping patients for whom open heart surgery is too risky.

Transcatheter aortic valve implantation, or TAVI, helps elderly patients suffering from aortic stenosis, a blockage of the heart's aortic valve. While the condition is usually remedied by open heart surgery, that poses too great a risk to older patients.

TAVI involves inserting a manufactured valve the size of a quarter into the heart. The new valve is delivered through a catheter from an incision in the groin or chest wall. Open heart surgery, on the other hand, involves opening up the chest.

Alberta's first procedure was performed on May 10 at Edmonton's Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute on 78-year-old Alex Shapka. Since then, two other patients have been treated.

TAVI was developed in Vancouver and was previously only offered in a handful of provinces, including Ontario and Quebec.

Shapka, a diabetic, told CBC News Thursday that he is happy to have his life back.

"I am not tired like I used to be. I move around and do all the things without any worries," Shapka said.

"I'm glad the doctors and the nurses did what they did. I'm very thankful."

A cardiac team is expected to begin TAVI procedures at Calgary's Foothills Medical Centre by the fall.

"Before, with a lot of these high-risk heart patients, you would have to turn them down for surgery, or you would proceed with extremely high-risk surgery in the hopes you would get them through," Dr. Steven Meyer, a cardiac surgeon with Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta, said in a statement.

"Some were successful; some weren't. It would put a huge strain on the patient, a huge strain on their families, and a huge strain on the health-care system.

"This procedure means we can help those patients, giving them quantity of life and, most importantly, quality of life. We're not just making people live longer, but we're making them feel better."

The procedure can be done under general anesthesia and takes between two and four hours. Open heart surgery can take up to five hours.

Most patients undergoing TAVI can leave the hospital after three or four days, half the time they would spend in hospital following open heart surgery.