Shirley Clarkson is a remarkable woman with a strong will to live. At age 81, she has undergone a multitude of health issues. This is her story of survival, thanks to recent progressions in medicine.
In 1998, Shirley was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and was treated with high does of radiation. Despite aggressive treatment, she overcame difficult odds and was able to get back to an active lifestyle that included regular workouts and miles of daily walks.
Some 10 years later Shirley’s general practitioner discovered a heart murmur during an echocardiogram and recommended she be seen at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. Here, Dr. Michael Shea diagnosed her with aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aortic valve opening, likely caused by radiation treatment.
Shirley’s condition, which was monitored on a regular basis, was stable until last spring. During her annual vacation in Mexico with friends, Shirley began feeling fatigued and short of breath. “I just didn’t feel like myself,” she says, attributing her symptoms to aging.
By August, Shirley’s aortic stenosis had worsened to the point where she required a cardiac catherization with stent placement for a blockage in one of her coronary arteries. Ultimately, her valve would need to be replaced. Because of her age and health history, doctors determined Shirley was a candidate for Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) rather than open heart surgery.
What is TAVR?
Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is a catheter-based procedure to replace the aortic valve in patients with severe aortic stenosis and is an alternative to open heart surgery. The U-M Frankel CVC has extensive experience in this area and is one of the only health systems in the region to offer all TAVR technologies currently available. With nearly 670 TAVRs having been performed to date, U-M leads the state in the number of these procedures and is one of the top programs in the country. U-M is also one of only two health systems in Michigan invited to participate in a clinical trial offering TAVR for low-risk patients, which means anyone with severe aortic stenosis can be considered a candidate for a TAVR procedure.
But Shirley’s TAVR procedure would have to wait. When she awoke feeling ill on her 81st birthday in September, Shirley was taken to U-M where she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or Afib, a heart arrhythmia. The condition required surgery to implant a pacemaker, putting the TAVR procedure on hold. “I needed the valve, but Afib intervened,” Shirley says.
One month later, she underwent a successful TAVR procedure by the TAVR team, led by Dr. G. Michael Deeb and Dr. Stanley Chetcuti.
“When I woke up I immediately felt better,” Shirley says, noting that she was up and walking the next day. She went home after three days and was able to climb three flights of stairs without difficulty and quickly resumed all her normal activities.
Feeling like herself again
These days, Shirley can be found at the U-M Cardiac Rehabilitation Center three times a week. “I was nervous at first, but it helps that I’m surrounded by medical professionals,” she says. She is also back to walking outdoors three or more miles a day when weather permits. When asked if she’s looking forward to warmer temperatures, she says with a smile: “You have no idea!”
Take the next step:
- Find answers to frequently asked questions about TAVR.
- Read about 92-year-old U-M TAVR patient Madge Cowles.
- Make an appointment to discuss whether you are a candidate for a heart valve replacement.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.