For most people, hearing they need heart surgery conjures feelings of anxiety—wondering how painful recovery will be, how large of a scar will be left, or what their life will be like afterward. Sheila Putnam knows this feeling first-hand.
Putnam moved to Delaware from New York several years ago. Having lived with a heart murmur her whole life, she immediately set up care under Bayhealth Cardiologist Pedro Perez, MD.
In 2021, Putnam noticed she was having a difficult time walking up stairs and taking short strolls to her neighbor’s house. She even had to take a step back from her volunteer work with the Ladies Auxiliary at the Frederica Fire Department.
“I would have to take breaks often,” she said. “It really affected my day-to-day life.”
Dr. Perez knew something serious could be going on. After several tests, he determined that her aortic valve was damaged and needed to be replaced.
“We started monitoring her murmur in 2018. Once she began having symptoms of a bigger problem, we were able to make a plan,” he said.
Putnam was scheduled to have the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) at Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus. The TAVR team at Bayhealth—Cardiac Surgeons Gary Szydlowski, MD, and Daniel Marelli, MD; Interventional Cardiologists Roberto Scaffidi, MD, and Manjeet Singh, MD; and TAVR Program Coordinator Todd Brandt, PA-C,—works collaboratively to evaluate and care for each patient before, during and after the procedure.
“When I learned I needed heart surgery, I was terrified. I wondered if it was worth it—I’m in my 70s and thought maybe this was just the end for me,” Putnam said. “But then, I thought of my children and grandchildren and figured I should give it a shot.”
Replacing the aortic valve typically requires open-heart surgery. It can pose a serious risk, especially for older patients. But the TAVR procedure is a safe alternative, providing a less invasive surgical option.
“I thought they would have to cut my chest open, which made me really nervous. I thought I would have a big scar,” Putnam said. “When I found out they only needed to make a small cut in my neck, I was dumbfounded.”
Unlike open-heart surgery, the TAVR procedure does not require any incisions in the chest. A narrow tube (catheter) is inserted into an artery. Through the catheter, the physicians replace the damaged aortic valve with a fully functional one. Once installed, the replacement valve pushes the damaged valve aside and begins regulating blood flow.
Putnam said she was in awe at how simple the whole procedure appeared to be.
“I experienced almost instant recovery,” she said. “I was ready to run up and down the hall!”
In fact, Putnam said that the TAVR team members told her afterward that she looked 10 years younger. The recovery didn’t take long either. She was able to go home just 24 hours after the procedure—although she said she felt ready to go home immediately.
The best part of the whole experience, Putnam said, was how she felt truly heard by her care team.
“I just adore all of my doctors, especially Dr. Perez. He really listens and takes every problem seriously. Having him as my cardiologist helped ease my anxieties,” she said.
“Timing is everything when it comes to heart conditions,” Dr. Perez said. “Staying on top of her appointments for several years allowed us to know the right time to refer her to the TAVR clinic.”
Putnam continues to see Dr. Perez to ensure her new valve is working properly. Dr. Perez said most valves will last about 15 years, and it’s important to stay under the supervision of a cardiologist even after the procedure.
“Most of the time, a primary care physician will be the first to notice a heart murmur, which can indicate trouble down the road. From there, a patient should get set up with a cardiologist so they can closely monitor for any changes,” Dr. Perez said.
These days, Putnam can be found enjoying outdoor activities, and working out at the gym. She’s even back at the Frederica Fire Department as a volunteer, cooking meals for her beloved firefighters. And, she decided to get married.
“I have a whole new outlook on life,” she said.
Offering innovation in cardiac surgery, the TAVR program at Bayhealth began in 2016. It’s the first and only program of its kind in Delaware to receive certification from the American College of Cardiology (ACC). Talk to your primary care physician now about your heart health.
This article is sponsored by: Bayhealth