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92-year-old U-M TAVR patient honored

Madge Cowles makes the trip of a lifetime, thanks to her TAVR

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Photograph by Leisa Thompson.

At the tender age of 92, Weltha “Madge” Cowles still looks forward to new experiences. In fact, she recently returned from what she says was the experience of a lifetime: being honored in Washington, D.C., for her Rosie the Riveter work during World War II. Rosie the Riveter was the name given to American women who worked in factories and shipyards during WW II.

Madge became a “Rosie” at the Willow Run bomber plant in Ypsilanti at age 18. Eventually, she was trained to perform electrical work on bomber planes, alongside her father. For three years, the pair drove from their home in Albion to Willow Run, working during the week and sleeping in a trailer, then returning home on weekends. “I enjoyed my work and fellow workers. I never missed a single day,” she says proudly.

The mother of six, grandmother of 14 and great grandmother of 21 says she was thrilled to be honored, along with 30 other Rosies, during a whirlwind tour around the nation’s capital on March 22. And she’s certain her transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure to replace her aortic valve at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center a year ago is the reason she was able to travel for the event.

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Madge Cowles keeps mementos from her time as a “Rosie,” including a booklet signed by her fellow Rosies. Photograph by Leisa Thompson.

“I would not be here if I hadn’t had my TAVR procedure,” Madge says with confidence, crediting the Frankel CVC’s Dr. Stanley Chetcuti, Dr. Paul Michael Grossman and the entire TAVR team for her improved health. “I feel like a new person in an old frame.”

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 650 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 involved 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.

The diagnosis

Madge was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and aortic stenosis in 2010. Her cardiologists in Jackson, MI (Dr. J. Patel and Dr. R. Mehta), treated her condition with stents, which allowed this active woman to continue to garden, take care of her home and spend quality time with family and friends.

But in late 2014, Madge’s health started to decline significantly due to congestive heart failure. Her daughter, Thelma, remembers calling her siblings to let them know about their mother’s failing health. “We didn’t think she would live much longer. She was very, very sick. But her cardiologists in Jackson convinced her that she was a candidate for the TAVR procedure, and my mother agreed to be seen at the University of Michigan.”

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Madge Colwes has fond memories of her days as a young “Rosie.” Photograph by Leisa Thompson.

Thelma says the entire U-M Frankel CVC team, including congestive heart failure and TAVR specialties, “was phenomenal. The whole system was so streamlined.”

On cloud nine

Madge recovered quickly after her TAVR surgery in February 2015 and now has a remarkable quality of life, says Thelma. “We know at her age we couldn’t add many years, but the TAVR procedure has improved the quality of life for our entire family. Mom went from needing 24-hour care to being completely capable of doing all of her daily activities.” For Thelma, there is no doubt the TAVR procedure is what enabled her mother to make the trip.

Madge — still “on cloud nine” from her trip of a lifetime — says she was “tickled and honored” to be celebrated for her dedicated role as a Rosie. “This was all very thrilling for me. We were treated like royalty.”

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Frankel-informal-vertical-sigThe 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.