By Jack Huber
Early in 2015, my doctor detected a heart murmur. After I had an MRI and an echocardiogram done, he recommended that I see a cardiologist.
The cardiologist diagnosed me as having moderate aortic stenosis. My situation was complicated by having a bicuspid aortic valve — instead of the normal three leaflets, my aortic valve had only two. This is a condition that occurs in less than 2% of the population. This was a shock to me. Even though I was nearly 67 years old at that time, I considered myself to be in excellent health. I was living an active life, including riding a bicycle about 3,000 miles per year.
My cardiologist told me that it was only a matter of time before my aortic valve would have to be replaced. We scheduled appointments every six months with an annual echocardiogram to monitor the situation. After two or three years, my aortic stenosis progressed into the severe range, although still felt okay and was able to keep up my usual routine. I was very concerned about my situation. I had several friends who had had their aortic valves replaced, and they had long and difficult recoveries from the surgery. But all of those fellows had their valves replaced using the open-chest procedure.
During all of this, the cardiologist encouraged me to remain active and continue riding my bike. But in mid-2019, I noticed I was no longer able to keep up with my friends on our weekly 30-mile bike rides. I was out of breath when trying to ride up hills and I had to cut back on my cycling mileage. I also noticed I was getting fatigued; I needed an afternoon nap to get through my day.
In March 2020, my cardiologist told me it was time to have the aortic valve replaced. While this was news I had dreaded, I was pleased to learn I was a candidate for the TAVR procedure. TAVR, short for transcatheter aortic valve replacement, is much less invasive than the traditional open-chest method. After some additional tests and procedures, the valve replacement was scheduled for late May.
I entered the hospital early one morning, and the procedure started at 7 a.m. A few hours later, I woke up in the recovery room and was then taken to a hospital room. By mid-afternoon the next day, I was sent home. While I was told not to drive or lift anything heavy for a week, I was able to climb stairs, prepare simple meals and more or less resume my normal routine.
Within a month of the valve replacement, I was back riding my bike, and I gradually worked up to doing 30 to 40 mile rides with my friends in the bicycle club. It was wonderful to be able to enjoy cycling again! I have more energy now and I realize I really needed the new valve. I feel very blessed that my problem could be fixed this easily.
For more information on Valve Disease, please visit www.valvediseaseday.org.