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

Top stories from 2015

Making discovering, helping our neighbors and people across the globe battle heart disease

This year the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center continued to lead a treatment transformation in heart valve replacement, made new discoveries, and gave hope to our neighbors and people across the globe who are battling cardiovascular disease. These stories reflect a fundamental truth: Every step forward is a step we take together. Best wishes for a happy, healthy 2016!

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It’s been a treatment transformation: fixing heart valves without surgery for patients with stiffened and narrowed aortic valves. The cardiac teams at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center have performed more transcatheter aortic valve replacements than most hospitals in the country. That’s 600 lives changed and counting.

From Egypt to Ann Arbor

Nassef Matoshaleh, and his wife, Wafaa, explored a handful of hospitals in the world – including the U.K., Germany, France and Canada and the U.S. — for aortic surgery. Their small family prayed the trip to the U-M to treat Nassef’s ascending aortic aneurysm would bring him back home. And it did. “The U-M team worked like an orchestra… to get out the most beautiful symphony you could ever hear. It’s like the symphony of life,” says Wafaa.

Back in the game

Without a human heart, Stanley Larkin visited a water park this summer and plays basketball with family and friends. Born with a heart defect, he’s spent a year with a Syncardia total artificial heart, the first person to leave a Michigan hospital without a heart and putting him in a rare group of patients worldwide using the device. A backpack-sized power supply keeps the technology — and Stanley — going until he gets a heart transplant.

Seeing double at the CVC

Twins enjoyed comic confusion at the CVC which was home to three sets of identical twins. Fourth year medical students – Corey Foster and Ben Foster – completed their rotations at the CVC. Courtney Clark and Rachel Scheich are both nurse practitioners in the CVC ICU. We miss seeing Mike Ranella every day, but we can see a familiar face in the device clinic where his twin brother Paul works.

Lacrosse star plays on with pulmonary hypertension.

Since her diagnosis with pulmonary hypertension, a rare heart condition that interferes with blood flow to the lungs, U-M graduate Katie Mezwa says she’s focusing on living a normal 22-year-old life. Her post diagnosis life included playing for the University of Michigan Womens Club Lacrosse team as the team earned its first national title this spring. Katie earned the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association Division 1 Player of the Year Award.

“To me, that award is a testament to my hard work and dedication and a great reminder that even a heart condition can’t hold me back,” says the 2015 U-M graduate whose future goals involve improving global health.


UMHEALTHThe 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.

U-M TAVR patient cheered by 100,000+ football fans

WW II Veteran and U-M patient honored as “Veteran of the Game”

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Ray Tollefson is familiar with the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, having undergone a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR)  procedure in 2013. He represents one of the more than 600 U-M TAVR patients to date who are living more fulfilled lives, thanks to the experienced team of interventional cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at the Frankel CVC.

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A member of the Michigan Marching Band stops to congratulate Veteran of the Game Ray Tollefson.

And, because of his TAVR procedure, the 91-year-old World War II U.S. Army Ranger veteran is now familiar with the U-M football field after being honored as “Veteran of the Game” before the University of Michigan/Ohio State University game on November 28. The full day consisted of a variety of events for Ray, including a tailgate experience, a salute from the Michigan Marching Band, which stopped to honor him, and his introduction as “Veteran of the Game” before a packed stadium of more than 100,000.
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Caregiver of 95-year-old dad shares challenges, rewards

Nurse, wife and mother has advocated for elderly relatives for as long as she can remember

caregiver heart blogDonna Ruemenapp knows a lot about caregiving. She’s been taking care of adult family members — including her aunt, uncle, mother and father — for as far back as she can remember. And her profession as a nurse, as well as her role as a wife and mother of three boys, makes her caregiver credentials even more impressive.

Despite the challenges that caring for others has presented over the years, Donna says she wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything. Today, as the main caregiver for her 95-year-old father, Joe Solak, Donna is grateful to be able to enjoy his company at a time when she knows others have lost both parents. 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