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Ruth Grierson is always on the go. Not only is she a naturalist, but also a talented musician. If she’s not out hiking trails in Acadia National Park, she’s playing her violin to crowds gathered at an outdoor café in Southwest Harbor. She may be 90 years old, but she has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. In June of 2015, her daughter knew something was wrong when Ruth didn’t have the same spring in her step while they were out on a whale watching trip in Newfoundland. “I could hardly walk with a wet suit on and my daughter said, ‘Something’s wrong with you,’” recalls Ruth.

Ruth went to see her primary care doctor, who ultimately referred her to Northern Light Cardiology at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. After consulting with our cardiology team including Matthew McKay, MD, interventional cardiologist, Ruth learned that she needed to have her aortic heart valve replaced. “I was told that I needed to have an operation, or I might have two years left to live,” she says.

Ruth had the option of having open heart surgery, or a much less invasive procedure known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). TAVR is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that repairs the valve without removing the old, damaged valve. Instead, it wedges a replacement valve into the aortic valve's place.

“She was an excellent candidate who, despite being 88 years old at the time, was very engaged in her community. She was otherwise healthy. She had plans for a lot more living and this single—but severe—problem was holding her back. That’s the ideal situation in having a valve replacement with TAVR,” explains Dr. McKay.

Before her procedure, Ruth had the opportunity to meet her heart team at the Structural Heart Program at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. That team included a heart surgeon, two cardiologists, and a nurse practitioner who was able to help Ruth and her family understand the process. “They were very friendly, were very open, and would tell you anything you wanted to know. I thought I was in good hands,” Ruth says.  

Ruth’s surgery went very well. She spent two days at the hospital in recovery and 13 days later, was back out having jam sessions at that same outdoor café in Southwest Harbor. Anne Johansen, NP-C, Structural Heart Program coordinator, is the one who was overseeing Ruth’s care. “One of the things I enjoy about this position is that I get to know these patients and their families,” explains Anne. One of my favorite questions is how has this valve changed your life, and I get such remarkable answers; it’s so fulfilling.”

“I had a visit with Ruth a month after, and it was a pleasure having that visit because her family told me how she looks like a new person,” adds Dr. McKay. “She’s carrying her 11-pound violin around, she’s walking up inclines, and doesn’t look like she’s out of breath and getting dizzy anymore. She’s coming back to the old Ruth and that’s so great to hear.”

And that next summer, Ruth was back out on that rubber raft, bouncing through the ocean waves, wearing a wet suit, and spotting whales. And this time, the wet suit didn’t bother her, and she wasn’t out of breath.