A St. John's family is fighting to bring a life-saving heart procedure to Newfoundland and Labrador, but so far has had little success convincing politicians.

Carmel Walsh, 81, needs an aortic valve replacement, but her doctors say that conventional open-heart surgery is too risky.

Her doctor thinks she should have a less-invasive procedure called TAVI, for transcatheter aortic valve implementation, but it would mean travel to New Brunswick – a journey that she thinks is too risky.

Patti Walsh-Connolly

Patti Walsh-Connolly says her mother is too sick for open-heart surgery, but also too sick to travel for an alternative therapy that is not offered at home. (CBC)

"For mom herself, it's got to be horrendous," said her daughter, Patti Walsh-Connolly, adding that her mother is anxious "knowing that there is something out there that can be done, but you can't get it done because you're too sick to get it done."

The family has written countless letters to officials and politicians, and even the premier's office. So far, the most promising news that has returned is that offering TAVI-based treatment is "under consideration."

Walsh-Connolly said she is sure that there are many other aging heart patients who could be given a substantially improved quality of life — and more life, as well — with the procedure.

"The people who are too sick to have open heart surgery like mom need the TAVI procedure, but they're forced to go outside the province. But most of them, if they're like mom, they can't go to the bathroom by themselves," she said.

'It's a difficult situation'

Dr. Neil Pearce, who heads the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Eastern Health, says it's tricky dealing with patients who are too sick to travel for a procedure that could change their lives.

"Whenever we're in a situation where a patient can't have an open surgery and they're also too sick or for whatever reason can't make the trip to a mainland center, it's a difficult situation," Pearce said in an interview.

"Unfortunately there's not a lot of alternatives for someone in that position."

Pearce said he is optimistic that the procedure will eventually be offered.

"Our population is aging. It is possible in the future that there may be more of a demand for this type of procedure," he said.

The Walsh family will keep up its campaign.

"Why isn't it here? It is a life sustaining procedure," said Walsh-Connolly.

"If it cost $5-million and it's way out of the ballpark — I get that. [But] even then, how do you weigh a life?"

With files from Julie Skinner