• Sue NelsonSue Nelson knows better than most the risks of open-heart surgery. Twenty years ago, when she and her husband were living in Maine, she underwent an open-heart procedure to replace a faulty aortic valve. The valve replacement was successful, but she suffered a stroke during the surgery. She was then faced with not only recovering from open-heart surgery, but relearning how to use her left side. 

    Nelson powered through rehab and made a nearly full recovery, except for some weakness in her left leg. She was then in her early 50s and was delighted to be able to return to her work as a physical education teacher. Eventually, her teaching career took her from physical education classrooms to roles as librarian, music teacher, and art teacher.

    Fast forward 20 years. The Nelsons are now retired and active residents of Sun City Hilton Head, near Bluffton. Nelson is now 71, active as a hand chime and bell choir member, a dulcimer player in the Sun City Mountain Strings, and a dedicated volunteer in Sun City’s Staying Connected program, where residents help their homebound neighbors. But last year, Nelson began to experience disturbing symptoms, such as dizziness and tiring easily after light exertion.

    Her cardiologist, Robert Rollings, M.D., of Memorial Savannah Cardiology, explained that her replaced valve, based on bovine tissue, was wearing out. Despite the fact that such valves typically have a much shorter lifespan, hers had served her well for 20 years. The time had come for a replacement. Rollings referred her to his colleague, Dale Daly, M.D., in the Bluffton office of Memorial Savannah Cardiology.

    Daly had good news. Nelson was now a candidate for a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), a minimally invasive procedure that would spare her the risks, pain, and extended recovery associated with open-heart surgery. She underwent the procedure December 6, 2016 at Memorial University Medical Center.

    “It was just amazing,” Nelson said. “I was only in the hospital two nights, and it only took me a couple of weeks to get my strength back.”

    In fact, she said, her TAVR procedure reminded her more of a diagnostic heart catheterization than her first valve replacement surgery. And now, she’s full steam ahead with her active life at Sun City.