81-year-old TAVR patient’s road to recovery

A remarkable woman shares her inspiring journey to good health

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The Edwards SAPIEN 3 Transcatheter Heart Valve

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Honoring Our Veterans

Ray Tollefson, WWII U.S. Army Ranger and U-M TAVR patient shares his story

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Ray Tollefson realized his dream of traveling to France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Ray Tollefson barely survived World War II. As a U.S. Army Ranger, the 89-year-old remembers D-Day well, including the severe injuries he sustained during the battle at Normandy, and his ultimate mission to stay alive. Ray not only survived the war, he went on to live a full, happy life, which continues today, thanks to the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) he received at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center for his aortic stenosis. His life-saving TAVR procedure enabled Ray to fulfill an important wish: to travel to France this year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

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. Ray’s medical history placed him at high risk for open-heart surgery. Continue reading