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

A remarkable woman shares her inspiring journey to good health


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

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

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


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.


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

TAVR patient gets back to enjoying life

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TAVR patient Marilyn Reeve

Marilyn Reeve’s heart issues started with quadruple bypass surgery at age 59. Ten years later, she began having trouble walking short distances, needing to stop often to catch her breath. The diagnosis was aortic valve stenosis. Due to her health history, open-heart surgery was out of the question, according to her doctor. “She recommended I go to the University of Michigan to see if there was anything they could do for me,” Marilyn says.

Fortunately, Marilyn was a candidate for Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), a procedure for those who cannot tolerate open-heart surgery. Marilyn’s TAVR procedure was a success. “I had my procedure on a Friday and was home on Monday. It’s marvelous what they can do,” she says.

Today, at age 70, Marilyn is back to doing all her own yard work as well as other physical things she couldn’t have done two years ago. She credits the entire U-M TAVR team with helping her get her health back. “U-M is the best hospital ever,” she says. Continue reading