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Margaret Hessler, TAVR Patient

Margaret Hessler - Alger, MI

"With this I had no pain, and no limits other than not driving for a week."

Thanks to a Minimally-Invasive Procedure, She has Energy for Retirement

Margaret Hessler hoped to enjoy her retirement with her husband and her new community; however, mounting health problems kept getting in the way of her activities.

In 2003, Margaret retired and moved north with her husband. Together, the two of them built a cabin in the town of Alger. Margaret enjoyed her new community and quickly became an active member.

Over time though, Margaret began noticing a deterioration of her health. She started feeling short of breath, which gradually made even simple activities difficult. "I wasn't able to walk from the house to the garage," she said. This was accompanied by an increasing pain in her shoulders when she walked or exerted herself in other ways. Sometimes it was bad enough that even while showering she would have to lay down and relax her shoulders.

At first, Margaret thought these were simply signs of aging. She and her husband had three daughters, 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, so it would make sense that they would be slowing down a bit.

Things came to a head when Margaret and her husband took a trip seven years ago. "It was terrible going through the airport," she said. Her symptoms became so severe that as soon as they arrived home she was put in the hospital. There, a pulmonologist suggested that it was actually her heart causing these problems, not her lungs.

After this revelation, Margaret underwent a series of tests to find the source of the issue. First was a CT scan, followed by an EKG, a chest X-ray, and blood work. Her providers found that her heart was not pumping blood as efficiently as it should be. One way of measuring this is by ejection fraction – the percentage of blood that the heart pumps out every time it beats. In healthy individuals, this number is between 55 and 70 percent. Margaret's reading was significantly below this normal range.

Margaret went through a few procedures to get her heart working well again. She underwent cardiac ablation and then had a pacemaker implanted to address an arrhythmia that needed correcting.

Eventually, Margaret's cardiologist, Susan Sallach, M.D., determined that she needed to have her aortic valve replaced. The aortic valve is the valve that allows blood to pass from the heart into the aorta – the main artery that feeds the rest of the body. If something is wrong with the aortic valve, then blood flow to the whole body can be impacted.

On April 2, 2019, Margaret had her aortic valve replaced at MyMichigan Medical Center Midland. The procedure that was used was a relatively new, minimally-invasive technique called a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR. During this procedure, a catheter is inserted into an easily-accessible artery, and then navigated through until it reaches the aortic valve. A new valve is inserted while the heart is still beating, without having to open up the chest cavity.

Leading Margaret's care team for the procedure was Cardiothoracic Surgeon Robert Jones, M.D., and Interventional Cardiologist Maged Rizk, M.D., Ph.D. They and the rest of the team met with Margaret and her husband before beginning the procedure and checked up on her again afterward. "It was just like you were home," Margaret said. "Everyone was there wishing you well."

Margaret stayed at the Medical Center for two nights while everyone made sure she was recovering well. "They were so friendly, so caring, always on time for their appointments," she said. "The nurses were wonderful."

Once Margaret returned home, she said she immediately felt normal and could hardly tell that she'd had a major procedure done. "With this I had no pain," she said, "and no limits other than not driving for a week."

Margaret was amazed by the ease of her TAVR experience when she compares it to other heart procedures she had done in the past. In 2005, she had the mitral valve in her heart replaced, a major surgery that required lengthy downtime. "I was laid up so long," she said. "What a difference between those two surgeries."

Now, with the help of occasional cardiac rehab, the future is looking much brighter for Margaret. "Since I've had my valve replaced, my shoulders don't hurt anymore," she said. At her one-week follow-up appointment, her heart's ejection fraction was up to a healthy 60 percent.

Though she's not walking completely normally yet, Margaret is able to walk better than before the procedure. All in all, she's very glad to have had the valve replacement done and looks forward to being completely recovered in a few months.

MyMichigan Health offers a full array of heart and vascular services, including open heart surgery, vascular surgery, electrophysiology for heart rhythm problems and advanced interventional procedures. Those who would like additional information on MyMichigan's comprehensive cardiovascular team may visit www.mymichigan.org/heart.