NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A tiny heart clip that can fix a leaky heart valve and save hundreds of thousands of lives appears to be a game-changer for heart failure patients.

The clip is for a failing mitral valve and goes in without surgery, CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Thursday.

“Not being able to walk as much as I used to. (I had) problems with breathing, difficulty breathing, and then the chest pains,” heart valve patient Michael Mann said.

Small wonder Mann was having trouble. The 78-year-old had had bypass surgery, coronary artery stents and a pacemaker. His chest X-ray shows the enlarged heart of a patient in heart failure. Worse, the enlargement had caused his mitral valve to become dysfunctional.

“Normally, your mitral valve … it’s two flaps that kind of opens and closes like this,” said Dr. Mathew Williams of NYU Langone Health. “But the problem is when the heart enlarges it pulls the valve apart. A leaky valve makes the heart enlarge even further.”

mitraclip HealthWatch: Clip That Goes In Without Surgery Said To Offer Tremendous Benefits To Heart Valve Patients

Mitraclip (Photo: CBS2)

This type of mitral valve leak or regurgitation affects 2 million Americans and leads to numerous, costly hospitalizations, not to mention that it is deadly.

“These patients were really ill, so in two years almost half of the patients have died. So about 25 percent a year,” said Dr. Gregg Stone of New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

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What may have saved Mann’s life is the tiny clip, called the Mitraclip, developed by health care company Abbott. It is being called a game-changer in treating this type of heart failure.

Here’s how it works: A long, thin catheter is threaded through a vein in the groin up into the heart and maneuvered so the clip is right above the malfunctioning mitral valve. With ultrasound guidance, the clip is positioned so it can grab the two leaflets of the valve and pull them together. Once that happens, the sides of the valve can open and close normally.

A landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine detailed the tremendous benefit for patients.

“Most importantly of all, there was almost 40 percent reduction in death over two years,” Dr. Stone said.

Mann said he felt the effect almost right away.

“I can walk. I got energy. My family is trying to slow me down,” he said.

The Mitraclip is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for a different type of heart failure, but Medicare and other health insurance is not yet paying for its use in this way. That should change with FDA clearance next year.