John Wolfenden’s TAVI Story

Published On: 23 February 2024Categories: Aortic Valve, Patient Stories, TAVI

In 2020, John Wolfenden started to get increasingly breathless when walking, but it wasn’t until a family emergency that John sought help with his symptoms. John’s GP listened to his heart and heard a murmur, and just months later, John was being treated for aortic stenosis. This is his story.

My GP diagnosed a fluttering aortic valve in 2020 after listening to my heart. I went to him as I found I was getting increasingly out of breath, which I thought was a lung problem. I had no idea I had a heart valve issue and had never heard of heart valve disease.

There was a series of events that led me to the GP with my breathlessness. I’ve always been in pretty good physical health, and I used to go to the gym regularly, which was a good way of testing my general fitness. But then, because of Covid, I was doing more walking on my own, and on one of my regular routes, I noticed I was consistently having to stop at the top of a bridge to catch my breath.

I’ve always described myself as a huffer and puffer when walking. Even when I was younger I have always been like that. It was in my habit of walking that I got out of breath, so that affected my reaction to the breathlessness, and I was getting older too. Once it became more noticeable, I thought I had a lung issue; I had no idea it could be linked to the heart.

However, the huffing and puffing was getting worse and deep down, I knew it was.

It was something that happened to my son that compelled me to go and get it checked out. I went to Australia in March 2022 to visit my twin sons, and when I got back, one of my sons developed a chest infection, which turned into pneumonia, and he ended up in the ICU for four weeks. Eventually, they found the cause, which was he had a form of leukaemia which had depressed his immune system. That got resolved, and he recovered, but the process shook me up and made me think I needed to do something about this and find out why I was getting out of breath.

And that’s when I called the GP. The first thing they wanted to do when I told them about my breathlessness was listen to my heart. He said he could hear a flutter in my aortic valve and that there was a problem. In all honesty, I was relieved. After that, he did what good doctors do and referred me for an echo at Kingston Hospital.

I got my doctor’s aortic stenosis diagnosis on 16 May 2022.

After the echo I then a discussion with my Cardiologist, Andrew Marshall, where he discussed the results and what the options were, and together we agreed that a TAVI was my best-suited treatment option. He thought that appeared to be the right solution, and explained in depth the procedure before referring me to Dr Tiffany Patterson at St Thomas’.

In the meantime, I started to research TAVI through the British Heart Foundation, and I was able to watch animated videos of the process, which I thought was very good and helpful for me to understand what was going to happen.

In the lead-up, apart from my breathlessness, I felt fine. Since the initial diagnosis, I’d scaled back my activity and stopped going out on my bike. I was living within my means while I waited to be treated.

Then, in December of that year, it was time for treatment. I went in on Sunday afternoon, had the TAVI on Monday mornings and left on Tuesday afternoon, and I felt fine. It’s ridiculous how quick and easy it is.

After my procedure, I did what they said. 15 mins walking in the morning, 15 in the afternoon, at least an hour after having something to eat, and then gradually increasing my cardio work over the next six weeks. I had a consultation with a nurse after three weeks, and she was so happy with my progress that I was discharged from their care.

Just three months later, I was travelling again and visiting the Blue Mountains with my son, whose illness had compelled me to see the doctor. We walked to the Three Sisters down a thousand steps and through the valley. And when we got to the bottom, we walked back up the thousand steps!

Since then, I’ve been to countless music gigs, galleries,  walks in the Lake District, the BBC Proms and a two-week motoring holiday in Europe – and I just started a new relationship through a dating agency!

Thank you so much, especially Dr Shiv Verma at Thameside Medical Practice, Dr Andrew Marshall (at Kingston Hospital), Dr Tiffany Patterson and Structural Heart Disease Clinical Nurse Specialist Gemma Beilby at St Thomas’s Hospital for everything they have done throughout my journey.

Heart Valve Voice Executive Director Wil Woan said, “Thank you, John, for sharing your story, and well done to his excellent team of clinicians who were able to deliver an optimal pathway as well as good shared decision-making. John’s story also highlights the importance of thinking critically about our health and responding to changes promptly. Too often, breathlessness is excused away as maybe getting older or a bit unfit, but anyone who feels breathless must get a stethoscope check. That simple check could save your life!

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