Life Saver

Heart Valve Clinic at SoutheastHEALTH gives new hope to patients with severe heart valve disease

"Dr. Carr is my security blanket, always there if I need him."

Little things mean a lot, especially when you don’t have them. That was the case with Mavis Almon and she did not like it one bit.

Consider her background and it’s easy to understand why. Growing up in tiny Anniston, Mo., Mavis was no stranger to pumping water, doing clothes on a washboard and chopping cotton.

After she married her sweetheart, the late Orville Almon, at the age of 17, Mavis went to work in the cutting room at Brown Shoe Company in Charleston, Mo. “We worked by piece work and our pay was based on it,” she says, estimating that she cut “millions” of shoes. After 29 years at Brown Shoe, Mavis moved on to Stark Manufacturing where she put in another 15 years.

Mavis has been young at heart all of her 83 well-lived years. A tech-savvy great-grandmother, she enjoys “messing around” with her iPad, getting on Facebook, playing computer games like Candy Crush and visiting with her sister Alberta, a frequent companion in Mavis’ home. And she never misses The Young and the Restless. “Everybody knows, don’t visit between 11 and 12,” she smiles.

Mavis Almon playing Candy Crush

So when heart valve disease put a stop to regularly attending the Elm Street Baptist Church in Charleston – her “new” hometown of 60-plus years – going to the beauty parlor for hair styling and a manicure and even shopping for groceries, she knew something had to be done.

Because Mavis was not a candidate for open chest surgery, Cardiologist Steven Carr, MD, of Cardiovascular Consultants talked with Mavis about a new procedure called Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR).

Dr. Carr explains this minimally-invasive procedure involves placing a new aortic valve into the body via a catheter inserted through a small incision in the leg or chest, guided to the heart through the circulatory system. TAVR can result in a much shorter hospital stay and a much shorter recovery time of one to two weeks versus six to eight weeks with traditional open chest surgery.

Dr. Carr says Mavis was not a candidate for traditional open chest surgery because of her age and her frailty index (how she fared in the six months before the procedure). “She spent more time in the hospital than out. She was almost non-ambulatory, on home oxygen and barely able to get out of her wheelchair,” says Dr. Carr.

Worn out from bouncing in and out of the hospital because of her stenotic valve, unable to walk from the den in her home to the bathroom and tied to oxygen tanks, “I decided to take a chance – either do it or die.” She adds that Dr. Carr made sure she fully understood the procedure and the benefits it could offer

A First

Mavis underwent TAVR in December 2014, patient number four. She also was a TAVR pioneer for Cardiovascular Consultants – the first woman to undergo the procedure.

Dr. Carr notes that when he began talking with Mavis about TAVR and how it could be of benefit, the procedure was not yet available in Cape Girardeau, Mo. “I said we were working on it and hoped to have it soon, but if she wanted to have the procedure done now, she would need to go to St. Louis. That was a big issue because of the travel for her and her family. We’re very fortunate now to be able to offer this exceptional, collaborative approach to heart valve replacement here, close to home and family.”

As soon as she woke up after her procedure, “I told the doctors, ‘I can breathe,’ ” Mavis says. She continues to be followed by Dr. Carr. “He’s my security blanket, always there if I need him.”

Mavis did very well, Dr. Carr adds. “She was off the breathing machine while still in the OR. She spent one night in the Intensive Care Unit and then moved to Cardiac Progressive Care for a few days.”

"I was amazed when Mavis returned for her one-month follow-up visit. She walked into the office for the first time in six months. She was not on oxygen and was not using a wheelchair."

Steven Carr, MD

Mavis continues to see Dr. Carr every three to six months at his Sikeston, Mo., outpatient clinic, just a short drive from Mavis’ home in Charleston.

“I’m crazy about my heart doctors. I’m grateful for the expert care I received and the many prayers offered by family and friends,” she adds. Today, Mavis is completely off oxygen. She has gone back to church and the beauty salon. She can go to the grocery store. “I got down so low and then came back up. I’m so thankful.”

Any vacant pedestals? Mavis has a solution, she says. “I would put Dr. Carr and his nurse Sue (Kerrie Sue Wagner) on them. They deserve it.”