February 15th, 2017

A Fast Recovery After a Quick Fix

milton hugate hampton roads tavr

Milton Hugate has always been an active person. At age 83, he still likes to mow his yard and his neighbor’s. Living in a rural area of Virginia with large lawns, the mowing is no easy task. Yet, he has always taken on the challenge with no problems – except when he started to have trouble breathing.

“For about eight months starting in late 2015, Milton struggled even walking from the living room to the bathroom,” shares his wife, Margaret. “He couldn’t do it without losing his breath.”

But Milton wouldn’t stop his usual activities. In May 2016, he spent a day working with a chain saw and walking up and down stairs. When he came inside and finally sat in the kitchen, he collapsed into his daughter’s arm. He was rushed to a non-Sentara Healthcare hospital, diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis (a narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve opening), and asked to undergo a valve replacement at another non-Sentara facility.

Milton’s daughter, Donna, had another idea. As a nurse practitioner, she wanted to investigate all of the treatment possibilities. A call to a friend led her to the Sentara structural heart team and evaluations for her father at Sentara Heart Hospital.

“The staff worked it so we could have a lot of the pre-testing done at one time, so we didn’t need to do much driving back and forth. The testing and the operation were scheduled quickly, and it all went fast. Milton had his procedure on a Wednesday and left the hospital that Friday,” Margaret shares. “He had great care.”

Milton had a TAVR, a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, a minimally invasive procedure that can sometimes be used as an alternative to open heart surgery. It is also known as TAVI, a transcatheter aortic valve implantation. Sentara Heart Hospital is one of a select group of heart centers across the country that pioneered the method.

TAVR allows doctors to replace a damaged valve without removing it. Working with a catheter, they deliver a collapsible replacement valve to the site. When they expand the new valve, the old valve leaflets are pushed out of the way.

Within a few days of returning home, Milton met with an in-home physical therapist. She set up a walker for him and said they would go at his pace. Little did she know that the pace would be fast: When she turned around to check on something, Milton was up and walking down the hall.

“He felt great almost right away,” says Margaret. “He’s doing anything he wants — working in his shop and cutting the grass. Anything that needs fixing, he tries to take care of it.”