As long-time Oakland County resident Gene was preparing for her 100th birthday party, her friends and family noticed she was slowing down. They say she would huff and puff her way from room-to-room, often stopping to rest every few feet.
Seeking a better quality of life and knowing she was healthy otherwise, Gene went to see her doctor, a fellow Cornell University graduate whom she trusted. He referred her to Beaumont where the cardiac team diagnosed her with severe aortic valve stenosis, a disease affecting her heart valve and its ability to pump blood.
With her age and fragility, Gene was not a traditional candidate for open-heart surgery, the standard of care for aortic valve replacement. However, her team of cardiac surgeon Frank Shannon, M.D. and heart valve cardiologist George Hanzel, M.D. had a plan.
"In 2005, we were the first in the United States to replace an aortic heart valve through a hybrid heart catheterization procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR," says Dr. Shannon. "After carefully weighing the potential pros and cons and seeing Gene's zest for life, we determined this could work for her."
"The TAVR procedure accesses the heart through a very small incision in the groin," adds Dr. Hanzel. "The new valve gets to the heart via a wire passed through the femoral artery where it can be deployed into position, replacing the ineffective original valve. TAVR is giving options to our high risk patients who before had none."
Gene decided to go full steam ahead for the procedure. She remained confident and held her 100th birthday party knowing what waited. Relying on the faith and love of her biggest supporters, she overcame any worries she had prior to the surgery.
Gene's father was a doctor, so she had great trust in her doctors and knew she was in good hands. "Beaumont has always been very good to us," states Gene's daughter, Carolyn, referring to her mother's medical history with Beaumont. "They were so great," she adds. "My mom went in for surgery on a Wednesday, and surprised us all when she was ready for rehab by Saturday." Knowing the normal turnaround time for patients who have the TAVR surgery is typically longer, this was a huge accomplishment for Gene and her family, as well as the Beaumont team.
Gene lives by setting examples. She wanted to prove to other potential heart valve patients this can be a miraculous procedure. "You are either lucky or you are not lucky," says Gene. "Fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones and wanted to keep on living." Gene's daughter Virginia adds, "My mom often gets asked what her secret to aging is, and in my opinion it is her positive attitude and incredible spirit."
Now at 101 and getting great marks from her doctors at her one-year follow-up appointment, Gene has regained her "pep" and "wit" and has resumed her busy life. She plays piano and performs with her men's and women's singing groups two days a week, runs errands, works with her housekeeper and bookkeeper, attends hair and manicure appointments and most of all enjoys the time she can spend visiting with friends and family.
Singing and playing music are huge motivators for Gene, making life worth living. Today, she's able to play her piano better than ever, and that is sweet music to everyone's ears!