Jesse Aldrich’s 94-year-old heart has been operating flawlessly for the past four years thanks to an implanted heart valve that his original doctor told him he was probably too old to consider.
“When I saw 21 years old, I thought if I could live to the turn of the century, I would be 79 years old,” Aldrich said during a trip to Houston Methodist in the Texas Medical Center for an annual checkup on his heart’s newest part.. “And here I am, 16 years past that! So I’m doing better than I thought.”
This Merchant Marine veteran of World War II, Korea and four tours of Vietnam is doing better because he sought help for his aging heart. At 82, he did have traditional bypass surgery — triple bypass — the painful open-heart kind where the breast bone is cut apart and where the recovery time can be lengthy and painful.
But at 90, he sought help for heart trouble again. Doctors at Houston Methodist agreed that open heart surgery for someone his age might not be the best idea. But they told him there would be no need to put him through the rigors of open heart surgery anymore.
Dr. Stephen Little, director of the Valve Clinic of Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, enrolled Aldrich in a clinical trial investigating the use of Trans-catheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI). The procedure replaces a diseased aortic valve without open heart surgery. A wire mesh aortic valve replacement is compressed onto a catheter and guided from a leg artery all the way to the heart. The trial in 2012 involved more than 13,000 patients in 40 hospitals in the United States, including Houston Methodist.
“When they put that heart valve in there, it fixed me right up, as far as I know,” said Aldrich during a yearly checkup now four years since the procedure. “They’ve just saved my life — that’s all there is to it. It’s been terrific.”
His doctors say sending someone home and telling them they don’t quality for heart surgery — just because they are in their 90s — doesn’t have to be the norm anymore. TAVI is steadily becoming a more common option.
“But in an era of Trans-catheter valve replacement, and sometimes Trans-catheter valve repair, that bar is completely changing, and we’re seeing a lot of patients now,” Dr. Little said.
“I’ve had no trouble whatsoever. I’ve been perfect the last four years,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich, who lives in Rock Springs, Texas, northwest of San Antonio, served 43 years in the Merchant Marines. He’s survived two heart procedures now and also has artificial knees and artificial hips.
“So it just seemed like they were advancing as I needed the help,” Aldrich said. “So I guess that’s why I’m still alive. The doctors have saved my life a half a dozen times, you know.”
And with his new and improved parts, including an artificial heart valve implanted in the most painless of heart procedures, he’s planning on forging ahead for at least a half dozen or so years more.