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TAVR aortic valve replacement helps 95-year-old thrive

University of Michigan TAVR patient celebrates another Christmas

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Joe Solak is happy to celebrate his 95th Christmas this year with his daughter, son-in-law, two sons and three grandchildren.

Joe Solak will celebrate his 95th Christmas this year, thanks to the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) he received at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center for his aortic stenosis.

Aortic stenosis is a condition in which the aortic valve does not open fully, decreasing blood flow from the heart to the body. Although open-heart surgery is the treatment of choice for aortic stenosis, about one-third of patients with this disease are not candidates for the surgery and stand to benefit from less invasive heart valve replacement options.

Joe was one of these patients. His age and heart history, including bypass surgery in 1995 and a congestive heart failure condition, put him at high risk for open-heart surgery. According to Joe’s daughter, Donna Ruemenapp, her dad just wanted to feel better. “He was tired, short of breath and couldn’t sleep due to congestive heart failure.” And while his former doctor recommended treating his symptoms rather pursuing other options, Joe and Donna weren’t about to give up.


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Joe Solak was back to exercising in the pool shortly after his TAVR procedure on July 2, 2014.

“Other doctors viewed him as a 95-year-old man who had lived a full life and who should be thankful,” says Donna. Convinced there had to be some type of treatment for her dad, she arranged for him to visit U-M, where he was assessed by the TAVR team. When Dr. Michael Grossman asked what activities Joe was doing prior to arriving at U-M, he told him that he swam, went to church and meetings and socialized. “I think we can help you,” Dr. Grossman responded.

The decision was cemented when Dr. Stanley Chetcuti performed a heart catherization, which confirmed Joe was a candidate for TAVR.

Joe’s TAVR procedure was performed on July 2, 2014, and was followed by rehabilitation for three hours a day, something he easily accomplished to everyone’s surprise.

Joe and his family are grateful to the physicians, nursing staff and Cardiac Rehabilitation Program staff at U-M, as well as to the U-M Home Care Services team, which got him back on his feet once he was home. Now, Joe is back to his water therapy, which includes regular visits to an indoor pool where he walks with weights and does kicks and squats.

“We’re so thankful to the U-M team,” says Donna. “They looked at my dad as a viable human being who still had something to offer the world. We are just so grateful. It’s a miracle and a gift.”

A very fitting sentiment for this holiday season, which Joe will celebrate with his daughter, son-in-law, two sons and three grandchildren. “We’ll all be together this Christmas,” he says.

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Frankel-informal-vertical-sig 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.