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Heart Patient: `Now I Have the Feeling That It's Really Good to Be Alive'

  • Category: General, Cardiology
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Boulder Community Health

shirley and her dog buddy

Shirley Heit has always lived an active, independent life—and she wasn’t about to let a diagnosis get in her way.

At nearly 95, Shirley’s daily routine is impressive: a 20-minute workout with weights, a long walk with her poodle Buddy, trips up and down stairs, and maybe driving herself to the grocery store. “Independence runs in our family,” says Shirley. “We’re nothing if not rugged individuals.”

It was Buddy who helped alert Shirley to her worsening heart condition, says her son Steven Heit, 59. During their daily dog walk, Shirley started feeling short of breath.

Innovative valve disease treatment: TAVR
Shirley’s doctor sent her to Dr. Srinivas Iyengar, director of the new Structural Heart program at Boulder Heart. There, an echocardiogram showed she had severe aortic stenosis (AS), a narrowing of the heart’s main valve that makes the heart muscle work harder to pump blood to the body. If untreated, it can lead to heart failure

The good news is that open-heart surgery is no longer the only way to treat this condition, Dr. Iyengar explained. In fact, Boulder Heart recently introduced transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), an innovative, minimally invasive procedure that’s now available in Boulder County, only at Foothills Hospital.

Approved for patients who are generally older than 70 or have other conditions that put them at higher risk for surgery, TAVR involves threading a catheter through an artery to place a replacement valve inside the patient's own valve, where it widens the opening and takes over regulating blood flow.

TAVR involves significantly quicker recovery than open-heart surgery – typically 2 to 4 days compared to 6 to 8 weeks.

Better energy, more ‘joie de vivre’
Within 48 hours of Shirley’s procedure last December, she was back at her apartment in an independent senior living community. “I didn’t even need a Tylenol,” she says, smiling. Steven confirms that within two days, “She was right back to walking the dog and going downstairs to dinner.”

“I don’t get light-headed and I breathe better now,” Shirley told us in February. Her family could not be more pleased with the results. “Her energy level is back to where it was five to ten years ago,” Steven says—and gives full credit to Dr. Iyengar and Boulder Heart’s team. “Their professionalism was very impressive; they explained all the details and executed the plan flawlessly.”

"Patients who are suffering from AS should not feel that age is a barrier, especially when they are motivated to live a full life," says Dr. Iyengar. "Shirley is a great example of this and has been a joy to take care of."

“I’d recommend TAVR to anyone,” Shirley said recently. “The whole experience was very easy, very do-able.” Our absolute favorite part of her story is that when she wakes up now, she feels more `joie de vivre.’

“I just have the feeling that it’s really good to be alive,” she says, adding that living to an advanced age was never her ambition. “For me, it’s all about quality of life. As long as I can do the things I want to do, that’s what’s important.”