How a New Heart Valve Made This 87-Year-Old Feel 60 Again
Born in Birmingham, England, in 1930, Ronnie Young was separated from his family and evacuated into the countryside during World War II. After the war, he went to technical school, and, at 21, he was drafted into the army as an engineer, helping to rebuild a country devastated by the Blitz. After his service, he became an engineer at Rover Car Company, then at Blackburn Aircraft, which eventually became a part of Rolls-Royce, where he worked for 30 years and managed more than 500 people.
Newly retired at the age of 55, Young was working on a top-secret project for Britain’s Ministry of Defense. One day in 1980, he arrived in Essex, just north of London, looking for a place to stay. “I knocked on the door of a hotel one day, and a charming lady came to the door,” he says. “I persuaded her to give me a room, thinking I was going to have it for about a week. Instead of that, here she is with me 33 years later.”
That’s how he met Rosi, his wife. She’d also survived the Blitz, and, as she’d grown up, traveled extensively, holding jobs around the world. “I ended up back in England in the early 1980s, and bought that hotel,” she says. “It was a huge mistake. I was not suited for it, but nevertheless, I ended up running it.” And a good thing.
Ronnie had spent his life using his mind and traveling the world. But by 2007, both were becoming harder.
Living by then in Rockmart, Georgia, he was having problems with his knee. Before he could have surgery to replace it, a visit to the cardiologist was in order. “He checked me out,” Young recalls, “and he said, ‘Your heart is only beating at 28 beats per minute. That’s way too slow.’”
That’s when Young was fitted with a pacemaker. But the next few years were a deluge of surgeries and complications: Heart stents in August 2010; open-heart surgery in 2011. The knee replacement finally came in 2013, but a subsequent fall landed him back in physical therapy.
Amid all these procedures, Young encountered another cardiologist who was straightforward about Young’s options: Because he was at high risk for surgery and previously had an open-heart surgery, his only option was a procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR.
TAVR is a revolutionary procedure for a common disease, aortic stenosis, which causes the aortic valve to narrow and restrict blood flow to the heart. TAVR is a minimally invasive alternative to open-heart surgery, in which a fully collapsible valve replacement enters through a femoral artery in the groin and reopens the blocked aortic valve. The risks associated with TAVR are similar to open-heart surgery, including death and stroke. If left untreated, aortic stenosis can be fatal. TAVR has become a well-established option for the more than 2.5 million people in the United States over the age of 75 who suffer from the disease.
For Young, it was his saving grace. In April 2015, he underwent a TAVR procedure at Redmond Hospital in Rome, Georgia. The results were immediately clear.
“Before the operation, I could hardly breathe, I could hardly walk,” Young says. “Now, I don’t feel 87 anymore. I feel years younger. I feel great.” It’s letting the Youngs return to the wanderlust that they enjoyed throughout their lives.
“Before the operation, I could hardly breathe, I could hardly walk. Now, I don’t feel 87 anymore. I feel years younger. I feel great.”
Now, the couple is able to enjoy traveling again. Prior to the procedure, Ronnie had to use a wheelchair in airports. After the procedure, “we went on a 2,500-mile bus trip looking at fjords in Norway and other bits and pieces in Europe,” says Rosi. “Our life changed radically.”
Sponsored by Edwards Lifesciences.
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