At 91, Lila Pisula is known for her energy that often surpasses that of people half her age. On any given day, you can find Pisula driving her car to church, crocheting or spending time with her multi-generational family, including nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
That’s why Pisula’s family was shocked to discover that she was having trouble breathing and walking during a family outing to the train museum. Marianne Podgorski, daughter of Pisula, acknowledged that these symptoms could indicate a heart problem.
“It was especially scary because we saw the impact of heart problems on the father’s side of the family; we lost my father and two brothers to this disease,” shares Podgorski.
Dr. Karthik Challa, a cardiologist at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin Illinois, diagnosed Pisula with severe aortic stenosis, which is the narrowing of the valve in the large blood vessel that branches off the heart. According to the American Heart Association, aortic stenosis is one of the most common and serious valve problems. This condition is usually caused by calcium buildup in the aortic valve. Calcium deposits, which are common with age, harden valve tissue and limit blood flow. The Doctor. Challa notes that if severe aortic stenosis is not treated, the survival rate is 50% at two years and only 20% at five years.
Historically, patients with this condition required open-heart surgery. However, the transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure offers a minimally invasive option. It uses a catheter, usually inserted near the groin, to position a new valve. TAVR is an excellent option for patients, such as the elderly, who are at high risk of complications from open-heart surgery.
“Age is just a number. Just because someone is in their 90s doesn’t mean we can’t improve their quality of life and longevity,” shares Dr. Challa. “Lila is a vibrant person and we want her to keep living that way .”
The Doctor. William Polito, cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, and Dr. Richard Park, interventional cardiologist, successfully performed TAVR in just over an hour. After an overnight stay in the hospital, Pisula was able to return home.
“After the procedure, I felt like going home, breathing and enjoying myself,” says Pisula.
A few days later, Pisula started walking and started physical therapy. Soon she was back to her usual energetic self, including driving to church every day.
“To me, the procedure seemed impossible, but they did it,” admits Pisula. “They worked really well together as a team, I was impressed.”
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