Photo Courtesy Of Clark Frame

From Appalachia to the Alps and back: An athlete, a heart, and a statue

Clark Frame is not your typical octogenarian. “I was born within 400 yards of a tennis court,” Frame says. “I still play tennis three times a week, and golf twice.” He’s a native of Weston, West Virginia, a small, Appalachian town of about 5,000 in the middle of the state, and he’s been an athlete all his life.

One sport in particular has always been important to Frame. “My first love, of all sports, has been skiing,” he says. It’s a sport that took him around the world, and brought him some unique experiences.

On a ski trip to St. Moritz, in the Swiss Alps, in the early 1950s, Frame happened to be skiing with Hannah Lory, an accomplished local skier. At the end of the day, Frame and Lory were the last two on the mountain. “Darkness was descending, and Hannah misjudged a crevice that we could both have easily jumped,” says Frame. “The shovel of her ski hit it and abruptly threw her down across the crevice, about 30 or 40 feet, and fractured her leg.” Lacing together two skis into a makeshift stretcher, Frame arduously carried Lory down the mountain to safety.

It turned out that decades earlier, Lory, then a professional ski guide, had saved the life of a Swiss woodcarver’s 14-year-old grandson, as he sped down the Corviglia, a notoriously dangerous slope, and nearly into a boulder. In gratitude, the woodcarver presented Lory with a hand-crafted sculpture of her racing down the Corviglia. After Frame’s heroics at St. Moritz, “Lo and behold, she gave me the small skier statue carved by the old woodcarver as thanks for saving her life,” Frame says.

Photo Courtesy Of Clark Frame

Sixty years later, Frame’s life, in turn, had been saved.

Three years ago, Frame noticed he was getting winded when playing tennis. It would be easy to chalk this up to age — he’s now 86 — but after talking with his doctor, Frame learned his shortness of breath was not a simple byproduct of aging, but something more insidious: aortic stenosis, one of the most common yet serious heart valve disease problems that affects more than 2.5 million people in the United States over the age of 75. Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve opening, restricting blood flow into the heart. If left untreated, it’s fatal.

At the time, he was happily — and very actively — retired after a long and successful career as an attorney. A 1955 graduate from West Virginia University’s School of Law, he served as judge advocate general at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois, before returning to the Mountain State to practice law with a well-respected local personal-injury lawyer. He eventually took over the firm, and he worked there until he retired. Today, it’s called Wilson, Frame & Metheney and run by Bill Frame, Clark’s son.

By 2015, Frame’s aortic stenosis had debilitated him for more than a year. “The deterioration of the heart valve means your body doesn’t pump blood through your body adequately,” says Frame. “You get tired, you don’t feel like doing much, you don’t even feel like having an evening with your friends or going out to dinner. You’re just lethargic.”

His saving grace was a small, artificial heart valve — just 23 millimeters in diameter.

Frame’s new aortic valve replaced his old one thanks to a revolutionary procedure called TAVR, transcatheter aortic valve replacement. A minimally invasive alternative to open-heart surgery, TAVR has become a well-established therapy in some of the leading medical centers around the world. During the procedure, a fully collapsible valve replacement enters through a femoral artery in the groin, and reopens the blocked aortic valve in the heart.

When his doctor recommended TAVR, he consulted with him about the risks like death and stroke, but also turned to his years of research experience as a lawyer. “Online, you can see exactly what they do, how they do it, the risks involved, and so forth.” His doctor talked with him about everything he researched online. His health changed after his valve replacement. “It improved my stamina and strength,” he says. “The procedure restores your energy. It allows you to regain your interests in reading, in friends, in family, in sports.”

“The procedure restores your energy. It allows you to regain your interests in reading, in friends, in family, in sports.”

After his procedure, he traveled to Irvine, California, to the Edwards Lifesciences headquarters, where he met the team that constructed his new valve. He brought along the Swiss statue.

“I gave it to them,” Frame says. “They not only saved my life, they save thousands of lives every year through their design, production, sale, and placement of the heart valves.”

Today, Frame and his wife of nearly 40 years are retired to Osprey, Florida. “We live in a wonderful little country club here,” he said. “It’s just beautiful. We have dinner with our friends, play golf and tennis, and keep up with the family.”

As for his health now, with his new valve? “It doesn’t worry me.”

Sponsored by Edwards Lifesciences.

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