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Structural Heart Patient Stories

Having a structural heart disorder can be scary. It’s helpful to know you’re not alone and that recovery is possible. Our videos and stories illustrate how treatment at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health changed the lives of people like you. Also see our cardiac surgery patient stories and electrophysiology patient stories.

  • At 94 years old, Elva Anderson is going strong thanks, in part, to a cardiac procedure she had recently at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. It was a TAVR or transcatheter aortic valve replacement—a minimally invasive procedure that repairs the valve without the removal of the old, damaged one. Elva had been experiencing shortness of breath due to her aortic valve not functioning properly.

    During a TAVR, a collapsible replacement valve is delivered to the heart through a catheter and is then wedged into the old aortic valve's place. Once the new valve is expanded, it pushes the old valve out of the way and takes over the job of regulating blood flow.

    The surgical team told Elva after the operation that they "had never seen an artificial valve go into place so beautifully." Elva only spent four days in the hospital, where she felt right at home. "All the doctors, nurses and trainees were especially friendly and helpful," she remembers. There was no recovery period, so Elva was able to go home and start enjoying life again.

    “I'll be 95 on my next birthday, and I have lived a full and happy life.”

    Prior to the concern about her heart, Elva had few health problems. A few years ago, she had hip replacement surgery and has had cataract surgery on both her eyes. About eight years ago, Elva was diagnosed with neuropathy, a condition that causes numbness in her legs and feet. The condition is not painful but makes it difficult to walk unaided. Elva now uses a walker to help with her balance.

    A busy person during her working years, Elva was an airline reservations agent at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. She retired 22 years ago after 40 years in the travel industry. "I was able to travel to many fascinating places in the world for which I am grateful," she says.

    Today, she enjoys driving to "interesting places three or four times a week" with her son, Tim, who lives with her. She also makes greeting cards using photos she's taken over the years. "That keeps me busy," she says, and adds that "I'll be 95 on my next birthday, and I have lived a full and happy life."

  • William Boitnott, 67, is a former Alaska state trooper now living in Enumclaw, Washington, and working for the Federal Aviation Administration, where he manages personnel from Alaska to Arizona to Guam. William says he's still able to work, in large part, due to the heart operation he had at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. Not to mention the kidney transplant.

    William's health problems started in 1991 when he was living in Alaska. He came down with pneumonia, and his doctor put him in the hospital on high doses of penicillin. "Two days later, I blew up like a beluga whale," says William, who credits a nurse for recognizing he was having an allergic reaction to the medication and unplugging his IV.

    Everything in William's body was swollen, including his organs. The extent of the damage, particularly to William's kidneys, would not be known for some time. After several weeks, his joints and cartilage were still extremely painful. A nurse friend of William's wife, Alice, suggested Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, so the couple flew to Seattle.

    “I knew the care was better there than anywhere else, so that's where I wanted to be.”

    William remembers that "three minutes after the doctor saw me, he said, 'I know what's wrong.'" The Virginia Mason Franciscan Health physician prescribed prednisone, and it worked. But two years later, when William had his annual physical in Alaska, his kidneys were found to be failing, and eventually he would need regular dialysis.

    A few years later, William transferred to Washington, D.C., where he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Since transplant patients need to be cancer-free for five years, his hopes for a new kidney were dashed. William made another job transfer to Seattle, partly to be closer to Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. "I knew the care was better there than anywhere else, so that's where I wanted to be."

    After five years of being cancer-free, William was again hopeful for a new kidney when a spot was found on his lungs. Knowing he would be waiting an additional five years for a transplant, William moved back to Alaska. A few years later, William became ill during dialysis and was diagnosed with endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart chambers and valves. He also had aortic stenosis or a narrowing of the opening of the aortic valve. 

    In November 2012, William and his wife made an emergency trip to Seattle, and he was in the Virginia Mason Franciscan Health operating room by nightfall. Surgeons replaced the faulty valve with a bovine one, and William jokes that he's feeling fine except for an occasional craving for alfalfa. Four days after the operation, William left the hospital but stayed nearby for follow-up appointments. 

    He returned to Alaska in reasonably good health. On Thanksgiving 2014, the call he had waited years for came in. William and Alice were in Seattle by mid-morning and by afternoon at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, where William got a new kidney. 

    Today, William says he is feeling "outstanding," and after so many years of ailments, he says, that's a pretty good way to feel. 

Frank’s story, mitral valve repair surgery

"I couldn’t have chosen a better person to do this surgery than Dr. Hampton or a better hospital to have it done than St. Joseph."

Bob’s story, heart valve surgery

“I can’t believe the care I got. You learn to enjoy every day.”

Jean’s story, aortic stenosis, transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) surgery

Landa's story, bicuspid aortic valve surgery

Kaja's Story, transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) surgery

Clyde’s story, heart valve repair