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Innovative heart procedure allows 92-year-old to continue to hula hoop

To see him in action today, it's hard to believe that Don Denny of La Crosse, Wis., is 92 years young and that just a few months ago he had surgery at Gundersen Health System to replace a faulty valve in his heart.

Don likes to stay active and has a reputation around La Crosse for his skills with the hula hoop. That's right…hula hoop! "I was at Larryfest in La Farge, Wis., and a woman threw a hula hoop on me. I was 85 years old at the time and I've been doing it ever since," reports Don. He can be seen hula hooping and dancing—often with young people a quarter his age—at bars, concerts and festivals around the area.

Not much slows down Don, so when he learned he needed a heart valve replaced in early 2018, open heart surgery and a lengthy recovery just wouldn't cut it. Thankfully for Don, Gundersen heart surgeons were able to offer him a better alternative: minimally invasive transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR.

Don Denny hula hooping

Gundersen began offering TAVR in 2014. With TAVR, a catheter carrying a collapsed replacement valve is threaded up to the heart through an artery in the groin using a direct puncture or a very small incision. Once at the site of the faulty valve, the new valve is expanded into place, pinning the old valve's leaflets out of the way as it takes over the valve's function.

Though TAVR is far less invasive than open-heart surgery, there may still be risks. The procedure is FDA approved, but so far only for patients who are high or intermediate surgical risks because of age or:

  • additional severe health conditions
  • anatomic and surgical hurdles such as scarring from previous bypass surgeries or radiation
  • severe hardening or calcification of the main heart artery

Don had his TAVR procedure in January 2018. One of his concerns before surgery was would he be able to continue to hula hoop? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, he's proud to say he was hula hooping the day after surgery. Sometimes he even brings his hula hoops—many which he has made himself—to cardiac rehab at Gundersen.

When talking about the TAVR procedure, the continuing care he gets at Gundersen and his hula hoops, Don joyfully sings, "It makes me feel so young…"

Is TAVR right for you?

If you've been told you need open heart surgery to have a heart valve replaced, get a second opinion. You may be eligible for minimally invasive valve replacement at Gundersen Health System. You can also call (608) 775-2335 and tell us you are looking for a heart surgery second opinion.

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