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From TAVR to 10K

From TAVR to 10K

Patient credits Valley Health teamwork from start to finish line and beyond

When Stephen Sandretzky jogged across the finish line at the 2019 Apple Blossom Valley Health 10K, it was less than six months after having minimally invasive transcatheter aortic valve repair (TAVR). He credits his rebound from health challenges to personal determination, faith, and the teamwork, care and encouragement he received from his doctors, nurses, technicians and staff at the Heart & Vascular Center at Winchester Medical Center.

Stephen was no stranger to heart issues. He had been treated for a heart valve condition in the past and had open-heart surgery in 2006. In September 2017, he realized he wasn’t feeling as well as he had two months before, when he had been thinking about getting back on the racquetball court. However, “It’s so slow and gradual that you don’t know that it’s happening,” he says. He walked when he could but was having breathing problems. As his condition worsened, he started to experience fluid building up in his lower chest, legs and feet. He went to pulmonologist Christian LaFalce, MD, and Valley Health’s outpatient pulmonary clinic in the spring of 2018 for help with his breathing issues, but he was also dealing with another health challenge as the year progressed.

In the fall of 2018, cardiologist Jeffrey Skiles, MD, confirmed that his aortic valve and mitral valve were not functioning properly and referred Stephen to the heart center’s Advanced Valve & Aortic Center for evaluation and consultation with cardiothoracic surgeon Basel Ramlawi, MD. Dr. Ramlawi thought he would be a good candidate for TAVR, pending results of further tests. Stephen was impressed with the doctors’ follow-up and the team’s scheduling of appointments in coordination with his other healthcare providers. “Everything just flowed, just like a well-oiled machine.”

One of those appointments was for a cardiac catheterization, which revealed a nearly total blockage in his right coronary artery, placing him at risk for a heart attack. On the recommendation of his care team, he stayed in the hospital’s cardiovascular unit for nearly a week before having stents placed in his coronary artery by interventional cardiologist Randolph Renzi, MD. “I had no idea I was going to go in the hospital,” he recalls, adding the staff “were just so compassionate and efficient. They made me feel so comfortable.”

Photo of Stephen walking on trail

Stephen began feeling better as the stents improved blood flow through his coronary artery. Dealing with various health challenges in 2018, the year had not been a very good one for him. “Lots of things were happening, and I’d gotten really rundown,” he recalls, adding he had lost weight and his desire to eat. In preparation for the TAVR procedure, he eat as healthy as he could and tried to walk more. “I wanted to have myself in as good a shape as I could be,” he says.

Dr. Ramlawi and interventional cardiologist Omar Ali, MD, performed Stephen’s TAVR in December 2018. The procedure went well, and Stephen spent one day in the intensive care unit afterward. He was amazed how quickly the fluid moved out of his lungs and then his legs. “I just felt everything’s working,” he remembers. “I started thinking then I’m going to be able to get myself healthy again.” His heart function improved significantly. With the recommendation that walking would be good for him, he started walking in Frederick County, VA, neighborhood.

In February 2019, Stephen began 12 weeks of medically supervised exercise in Valley Health’s outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program. “I benefitted extremely from cardiac rehab,” he says. “In short order, I found out ‘I can do this.’ I found out that my heart recovers very quickly and doesn’t have to rest long.”

He steadily increased his walking time and distance. After someone mentioned the Apple Blossom 10K, he started working toward that goal, walking uphill and jogging down. With lots of encouragement and his doctors’ OK, he registered for the 10K. One of the nurses who had taken care of him offered to walk with him, so they did it together, which was reassuring to his wife and family. Stephen completed the course a couple of minutes under the required hour and half maximum, placing fourth in his 75-80 age group.

Profile image of StephenOn Memorial Day weekend, he walked and jogged the Loudoun Street Mile and hopes to run it next year. He has also been able to play racquetball again.

“I’ve had so many people encourage me with all of this,” Stephen says. “I felt so blessed that so many people [were] praying.” From the time Dr. Skiles called to inform him of the condition of his valves, everything fell into place, and as he needed each service, things happened.

“The whole system reminds me of a big wagon wheel with all these spokes. Each doctor or each service is a spoke, and the Lord and I are in the hub,” he says. “Each doctor, a nurse, the different departments, the heart center – they were a team. We were all a team.”

His doctors had conferred about repairing his mitral valve and decided to do the TAVR first and allow him to recover. Since the TAVR, his mitral valve is apparently “in the game and working,” he says.

“My family feels that the Heart & Vascular Center gave 100% with their teamwork, their caring, their attitude, encouragement, kindness – and always a follow-up,” Stephen says. “I can’t help but be positive about the heart center.”

He concludes with a reference to a famous movie line: “You can get busy living or you can get busy dying. I don’t like the second choice. I don’t see where that’s any advantage. I’ve come so far.”

To learn more about Valley Health Heart & Vascular care and the Advanced Valve & Aorta Center, click here

Watch Stephen's testimonial video below