Helen's Story

Broadview Heights Woman, 89, Has Heart and Cancer Procedures One Week Apart

Heart failure doesn’t mean you’ve run out of options – even in your late 80s. Helen Miller, a University Hospitals patient, turned a diagnosis of heart failure into a success.

Short of breath while walking into her doctor’s office at University Hospitals Parma Medical Center, the grandmother of five was expecting bad news. At 89, the widow knew she couldn’t undergo the lengthy recovery of open heart surgery, which her late husband experienced decades ago.

Then cardiologist Gerald Burma, MD, told her about Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) – a minimally invasive procedure where UH interventional cardiologists replace the diseased valve in the patient’s heart while it continues to beat. As part of University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, UH Parma Medical Center patients now have access to advanced technologies like TAVR. UH is the nation’s first teaching site for TAVR and just one of three hospitals in the nation to perform this procedure in the awake, talking patient.

Miller’s recovery was so quick, and the impact on her overall health so minimal, that she was able to consider another procedure the following week. Diagnosed with colon cancer, her doctors decided she was able to return downtown for a procedure with colorectal surgeon Sharon Stein, MD, who put her at ease with a kind demeanor and assured her that her heart condition – now treated – would not rule her out for cancer treatment.

Now Miller is back at UH Parma Medical Center – closer to her Broadview Heights home – for follow-up, realizing the full benefits of the UH network.

“I was a basket case before I went to Dr. Burma,” said Miller, who has a history of atrial fibrillation and has had multiple stents inserted to open blocked coronary arteries. “Afterward, I told him, ‘Thank you for giving me my life back.’ Surprisingly, I felt really good.”

TAVR patients have a significantly shorter hospital stay, at one to two days versus more than seven for traditional open heart surgery. Since they do not require general anesthesia, they avoid the complications that can arise in those cases and recover faster.

“This is an option for aortic stenosis, primarily being used for patients who are high-risk for traditional surgery, which anyone at 89 would have difficulty recovering from,” Dr. Burma said. “She was a great candidate. She’s doing very well.”

With four children and volunteer work as an usher at Assumption Parish of Broadview Heights, she was glad she was in the right hands.

“I love UH,” Miller said. “They’re so friendly, and they make you feel so comfortable. I feel so lucky. I’m better all the way around. I’m just thankful I’m alive.”