Jennie Fulasz is 96, lives alone with her bull terrier, Pinkie, and should not be underestimated. She lives an active life — taking care of the housework, cooking and laundry, as well as making regular trips to the casino to play the slot machines.
When her heart function dipped below 50% due to a faulty heart valve, she knew she needed help, but surgery wasn’t the right option. Her doctor, Dr. Ajay Yadlapati, an interventional cardiologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, had the right solution for Jennie.
Fixing heart valves without open surgery
The procedure is called a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). This minimally invasive procedure repairs the heart valve without removing the old, damaged valve or opening the chest. Instead, doctors place an artificial valve into the original aortic valve's place.
For those living with severe aortic stenosis (narrowing of the aortic valve opening), the TAVR procedure usually reduces pain and anxiety, and results in a shorter hospital stay — and therefore a faster recovery period — than a traditional heart surgery, allowing the patient to resume their normal activities sooner.
Dr. Yadlapati says this procedure was a necessary and perfect solution for Jennie. “If her faulty valve was not not replaced, she faced many potential consequences, such as heart failure or death,” he says.
Jennie opted for the TAVR procedure at Sharp Memorial Hospital in August 2019. Almost immediately, she felt stronger and rejuvenated. Within a week, she made a batch of her renowned fudge — almost 10 pounds worth — and before long, she returned to her normal activities.
“I had no qualms going into it,” says Jennie. “Dr. Yadlapati explained the whole procedure step by step. I had complete faith in him. I told myself, ‘why not, what the heck.’ And, it worked out really well.”
A transformative option for patients with heart valve disease
Dr. Yadlapati says that TAVR used to only be available for people who were too weak to undergo open heart surgery, but now has been transformative for nearly all patients with severe aortic stenosis who are experiencing symptoms.
“People like Jennie demonstrate that you shouldn’t be treating a patient by their age, but instead treat them as an individual. And because of this, people like Jennie can live their life to the fullest,” he says.
For someone who has witnessed 16 different U.S. presidents over her lifetime, Jennie hasn’t slowed down one bit. She’s busy preparing her income taxes, working in the kitchen and playing with Pinkie, and will soon visit her son in Florida — all thanks to her newly repaired heart valve.
“It gave me security,” she says. “I’m amazed at how well the valve has worked for me.”