Ruby Denny

Heart patient happy and well after expert valve care

Florence Wormald Heart & Vascular Institute at St. Elizabeth is open and safe


Ruby Denny will never forget what happened to her one night in early March, just before the COVID-19 pandemic escalated. She was lying in bed, ready to fall asleep, and suddenly, she had a horrible feeling in her chest.

“I started gasping for breath. It was hurting badly,” says Ruby. “In the past, if I had this pain, I would drink water, and it would go away, like indigestion. But this didn’t get better.”

Ruby’s husband was downstairs, so she made her way down and banged on a door to get his attention.

“He came running, and I said, ‘I have to go to the hospital. I can’t breathe, it’s hurting so much,’” remembers Ruby.

After being rushed by ambulance to St. Elizabeth Edgewood, Ruby found out she had pulmonary edema, a buildup of fluid in the lungs. Doctors performed an angiogram to look at her heart and see what was causing her symptoms. The procedure confirmed that Ruby had a serious condition – aortic stenosis.

“Ruby’s aortic valve had stiffened and narrowed due to a buildup of calcium deposits. The valve was not opening and closing properly. As a result, her heart was having trouble pushing blood to the rest of the body,” explains Victor Schmelzer, MD, Director of the Florence Wormald Heart & Vascular Institute at St. Elizabeth and Co-Medical Director of the Structural Heart and Valve Center.

Other symptoms of aortic stenosis include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness

Heart valve replacement – a minimally invasive solution

No wonder Ruby wasn’t her usual, energetic self! Ruby, 77, and her husband, Richard, 81, have always been active and adventurous. Over the years, they loved to board Amtrak trains with their four children and travel the country. They also run an office cleaning business in Northern Kentucky.

“Our cleaning jobs were taking longer – not only because we were doing extra cleaning due to the coronavirus – but I had to stop and rest periodically. Also, I was having trouble going up and down steps, especially when carrying something. I was short of breath,” says Ruby.

Her diagnosis of aortic stenosis did not catch Ruby’s doctors off guard. Ever since she had a heart attack twenty years ago, her cardiologist, Dr. Jerome Schutzman, has been closely monitoring her health and her sluggish heart valve.

To help Ruby, the specialists with the Florence Wormald Heart & Vascular Institute at St. Elizabeth Structural Heart and Valve Center recommended a minimally invasive procedure called TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement).

“Our goal was to replace Ruby’s old, diseased heart valve with a new valve – without performing open-heart surgery,” explains Dr. Schmelzer. “Using a catheter inserted into an artery in the leg, we delivered a new replacement valve up through the arteries into the heart. At the right moment, we inflate a special balloon that pushes the patient’s old valve out of the way and puts the new valve into place, allowing it to take over the job of regulating blood flow.”

Expert teamwork at Florence Wormald Heart & Vascular Institute at St. Elizabeth

To determine the best treatment for Ruby – and all their patients – the experts at Florence Wormald Heart & Vascular Institute at St. Elizabeth work closely as a team.

The TAVR team includes two surgeons, two cardiologists, nursing staff, a nurse navigator and anesthesiologists who are dedicated to the well-being of the patient.

“Using a team approach, we review the patient’s history, examine the patient, and talk with the patient about our recommendations,” explains Dr. Schmelzer. “We thoroughly consider what would benefit each individual and offer personalized care.”

Safe and secure – every step of the way – even during COVID -19

Ruby has always trusted the doctors at St. Elizabeth, but the idea of having surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic worried her.

To help patients feel safe and secure, St. Elizabeth associates follow special screening guidelines.

“All the hospital workers were waiting for me at the front door when I walked in. Everyone was wonderful – like I was there for them to take good care of,” says Ruby. “They were cautious.”

On the day of Ruby’s TAVR surgery, the nurse navigator arranged for doctors to video chat with her family – before and after – so they would feel reassured that she was in good hands.

“St. Elizabeth has done an outstanding job during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve gone to great lengths – establishing cleaning and organizational protocols – to ensure patients are safe and comfortable,” explains Dr. Schmelzer. “We don’t want patients to be fearful of getting the virus. It’s more dangerous to ignore medical conditions. We encourage people to seek the care they need.”

A successful surgery – renewed energy

Ruby’s valve replacement (TAVR) procedure happened in May. Recovery time was about two weeks. And she says it’s made a world of difference.

“It’s great. I can go up and down steps and carry something without getting breathless. I can even hurry up the steps, and it doesn’t bother me anymore,” explains Ruby. “One day I cut grass, and my husband and I cut up a fallen tree with hand saws. We were tired, but OK.”

Ruby now goes to cardiac rehab. And when it’s safe to travel again, she and her husband hope to ride the Amtrak train to Reno.

“I am really grateful to my doctors and nurses at St. Elizabeth – can’t say enough good about them. Everyone was so nice,” says Ruby. “I’m 100 percent glad I had the valve replacement, even during the pandemic.”

“Our team is very appreciative when people give us that kind of feedback. We’re motivated to keep doing what we do,” says Dr. Schmelzer.

“The only thing lacking was the fact I wasn’t able to hug any of them,” says Ruby. “I’m a hugger and miss that so much.”

Learn More About TAVR

TAVR is a treatment for patients with severe aortic stenosis who are not candidates for traditional valve surgery. It offers an option for patients who otherwise would have limited life expectancies without treatment. For more information about treatment options for heart valve problems, including the TAVR procedure, call the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute Structural Heart and Valve Center at (859) 301-8287 (TAVR).