How I Avoided Open-Heart Surgery: Dottie’s Story

It came on real fast. I thought my asthma was acting up and that was why I was feeling sluggish, tired and out of breath. My chest felt heavy, I was wheezing and I couldn’t move from one place to the next. My primary care doctor had me do an echocardiogram and then called me the same day. I knew it wasn’t good news.

I have aortic valve stenosis, which is a heart condition that occurs when the aortic valve does not properly open and close. I felt tired and weak because my blood flow was restricted. Thankfully, there is a minimally-invasive procedure, called Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) that could fix this and I could avoid open-heart surgery.

This was all new to me, but Edward Terrien, MD, a cardiologist at UVM Medical Center, explained the procedure in simple terms. He showed me on the computer my echo results and he even showed me how they’d perform the procedure. He answered every question I had – no matter how foolish I thought it was. At every step, from pre-registration to recovery, my care team explained everything from A to Z. They included me in every conversation and decision, which eased my fears.

When I was in recovery, my care team made sure I was okay. They made me feel like I was their only patient. It was a great experience overall.

As part of my recovery, I did the 36-week cardiac rehabilitation course. It really helped me. I learned exercises to help my strength and mobility and to help me recover faster. I’m 70 years old and I don’t have too much stamina anymore, so I was a little leery but I feel twice as good as I did before.

I was surprised to learn this procedure was available here in Burlington. When I first learned about the TAVR procedure, I assumed they were referring to Boston but they said “No, we’re doing it right here!”

My advice to anyone in a similar situation is this: thinking and worrying about your health is a lot worse than the procedure itself. Meet the doctors and make sure you’ve found someone that you trust. Do your own research. I’d bet you’ll find the care and support you need right here in our community.

Dottie Michelson serves as a volunteer Patient and Family Advisor at the UVM Medical Center.

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