Totally Pumped

totally pumped

Marcella Franks is now able to do things she enjoys, like taking walks and shopping with her daughter-in-law Kathy. Photo by John Halpern

When a faulty heart valve left a 77-year-old woman breathless, Good Samaritan Hospital helped her return to an active lifestyle.

By Deborah Skolnik

Marcella Franks led a lifestyle that could have easily exhausted someone half her age.

Though officially retired for several years, the Port Jervis resident had occasionally worked part-time for the same cosmetics manufacturer that employed her for more than 50 years. During that time, she was on her feet “probably eight to nine hours a day, which kept me very active.”

In recent years, though, Franks began noticing she’d get a bit winded walking across the plant. Concerned, her cardiologist at Bon Secours Medical Group recommended she have an echocardiogram, an ultrasound procedure that produces images of the heart. It was performed at Bon Secours Community Hospital. What he saw frightened Franks: Her aortic valve was narrowing. “I was scared to death,” she remembers, noting that many of her close relatives had died of heart attacks or strokes.

NEW DOCTORS, NEW HOPE

Over time, her valve shrinkage worsened, as did her symptoms. Her cardiologist suggested a treatment called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), a minimally invasive surgery in which her narrowing valve would be replaced with an artificial one, via a small tube inserted in her leg artery. He referred her to Rajiv Singh, MD, an interventional cardiologist with the Heart Team at WMCHealth’s Good Samaritan Hospital, in Suffern, the only hospital offering TAVR in Rockland and Orange counties.

“Do not hesitate. After you have the surgery, you will feel like you did when you were in your 20s.”
—Marcella Franks

“I was so impressed with him,” Franks says of her first meeting with Dr. Singh. “He took a stethoscope and said, ‘I want you to do something.’ He let me listen to his heart. Then he said, ‘Now listen to yours.’ His heart had very strong beats, but mine just sounded like ka-thump, ka-thump. It didn’t have the life to it that his did. I said, ‘Oh, I want mine to sound like yours!’ and he said, ‘That’s what we’re going to do for you.’”

Franks’ aortic valve had deteriorated from age, Dr. Singh says. “Due to scarring over the years, it had calcified, making it stiff,” he explains. This made it less able to perform its crucial functions: opening up to allow the heart to eject blood to the brain, kidney and other vital organs, then closing to prevent backflow. “Without treatment, the patient’s life expectancy begins to shorten.”

Luckily, testing showed that Franks was an ideal candidate for TAVR. “She was the poster child for this procedure: extremely active physically and though technically older, spiritually young,” Dr. Singh observes. “She was exhibiting all the signs and symptoms of severe aortic stenosis [narrowing], without any other major illnesses.” Together with the Heart Team at Good Samaritan Hospital, he and Franks decided she would have the procedure.

In the fall of 2020, Franks underwent TAVR surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital under moderate sedation. Within hours, she was up and around and returned home after an overnight stay. Just two weeks later, she was able to return to normal activities, including walking her dog, Charlie, though she has yet to return to work.

“I wish I hadn’t been as afraid as I was when I first heard I had to have this surgery, because there’s nothing to it,” shares Franks. “And now, I look at some of the places where I walked that made me breathless, and I say, ‘I have all this energy back again!’”

TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH A CARDIOTHORACIC SURGEON AT GOOD SAMARITAN HOSPITAL, IN SUFFERN, CALL 845.368.8800 OR VISIT GOODSAMHOSP.ORG/CARDIOTHORACIC-SURGERY2 FOR MORE INFORMATION. FOR CARDIOTHORACIC SURGERY AT WESTCHESTER MEDICAL CENTER, CALL 914.493.8793 OR VISIT WMCHEALTHAPS.COM/CARDIOTHORACIC-SURGERY.