Keeping his breath

bill on an exercise bike

An innovative heart procedure helped a local man keep his charitable spirit

Even as he nears 90 years old, Bill still feels the need to give back.

For more than 20 years, the retired Air Force serviceman with more than 25 years of service, continued his dedication to serving others by volunteering for Meals on Wheels.

Once a week, Bill will volunteer his time to deliver meals to people who (for any reason) might not be able to leave the house or prepare their own meal.

It’s work he finds deeply rewarding — an opportunity for him to continue to serve. “I was looking for something to do, and they needed me,” he said.

But it was an opportunity he was close to losing. A heart condition leaving him low on energy and stamina might keep him from his service.

But a chance referral to a new cardiologist and a new, minimally invasive procedure helped keep Bill on the road and helping his community.

Ready to run

Bill began running during his days in the military.

In the 1970s, Bill was stationed at United States Air Force base Wiesbaden Air Base in Germany when, as part of his physical examination, was required to run a mile-and-a-half in 17 minutes or less.

“While I was running, I knew I wasn’t going to make it,” Bill remembers, as the base doctor gifted him a passing 17 minutes. “And that hurt my pride.”

He started running during his downtime, or even whenever he could squeeze it in. He even founded a base running club: The Wiesbaden Road Runners.

On a trip to France, he competed in his first marathon, finishing in 3:44:09 (a time still with him decades later).

After a return stateside and upon his retirement, Bill continued to run. But he added an annual stress test to his annual examination.

“I ran my first Detroit marathon in 1981,” he said, “and I’ve had a stress test every year since.”

The only issue he’s ever run into was a mitral valve prolapse, a very common condition in which the valve between the hearts upper and lower left chambers improperly closes. Its impact can be minor enough to the point that many cases do not require treatment.

When Bill’s cardiologist retired, he was referred to Dr. Timothy Logan, an interventional cardiologist at McLaren Macomb.

Reviewing the results of the stress test with Bill, Dr. Logan said that the issue wasn’t with his mitral valve. “It’s your aortic valve.”

Coming back

Continuing to remain active, Bill had noticed a considerable decline over recent years.

Setting up an elliptical bike in his basement, he used to be able to complete 30 minutes of vigorous exercise. In recent months, he was lucky to get two.

Many days, he felt his energy level lagging.

Like many before him, he credited these issue with ‘feeling your age.’

But fatigue is one of the most noticeable symptoms of aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the valve of the aorta, the main artery branching off of the heart, keeping it from fully opening, reducing the amount of blood pumped through the heart. Forced to work harder, the heart is weakened.

“I just thought I was getting old,” Bill said, “but I knew something might be wrong.”

There was a time when it would take open heart surgery to full correct Bill’s stenosis. However, thanks to the minimally invasive approach of TAVR, patients such as Bill (who are considered high risk for an open surgical procedure) have an avenue back to better health.

Transcatheter aortic valve replacement, TAVR is a minimally invasive procedure to replace the malfunctioning aortic valve with an organic valve supported by a metallic stent.

“In the past, his only option would have been open heart surgery,” Dr. Logan said. “But now, with TAVR, he has a much less-invasive option. This gives us more options in treating these patients, drastically decreasing the recovery time and discomfort they would experience with an open approach.”

Says Bill, “They got to the condition before it became a real problem. And it was fantastic — a big relief — that they could go through an artery.”

With his healed valve and more wind in his sails, Bill, closing in on 90, regularly completes walks of two miles and racks up strokes on his rowing machine.

It also allows him to continue his service — with plenty of energy, he continues to deliver the Meals on Wheels to those who need them.

“This,” he said of TAVR, “allowed me to keep going.”