A Renewed Start for the Biggest Heart

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The candles on the cake are lit and a small toy pig is gifted, but the wish has already been granted. And so she smiles, holding tight to her stuffed pig, each one in her collection a sign of the years added to her life.

Elphie Theriot recently celebrated the 6th year anniversary of her transcatheter valve replacement (TAVR) on January 25. The 90-year-old from Chauvin continues to commemorate this special day when a diseased valve in her heart was replaced with a bio-prosthetic valve made out of metal and yes, tissue from a pig. Each year, she marks her “rebirth-day” with cake and candles, and receives a new stuffed pig as a gift in memory of the procedure that gave her new life.

A mother of eight who was married for 71 years, Mrs. Elphie is bright and spunky, with a razor sharp wit and a sassy sparkle in her eye. She confidently shares how this procedure gave her heart a new start. Before knowing the extent of her condition, she recalled feeling sick and having shortness of breath, but she never had chest pain. “I just felt tightness around my chest,” she explained.

Through visiting her cardiologist at Cardiovascular Institute of the South (CIS), she learned of a condition called aortic stenosis, which occurs when aortic valves do not open properly, hindering the heart from pumping blood throughout the body. This condition weakens the heart over time, and for Mrs. Elphie, this meant that her heart could not sustain itself for much longer.

Dr. Peter Fail, interventional cardiologist at CIS, told her about a new research procedure called TAVR, a minimally-invasive, catheter-based process to implant an artificial valve in place of a diseased valve. At first, there were concerns that her petite frame would be too small to accommodate even the smallest artificial valve, but she was still ideal for the procedure, as she was 84 at the time and considered high risk for open heart surgery.

In 2012, Mrs. Elphie was the second patient to receive a TAVR procedure in the area. It was a success, and she noticed an immediate difference. “I didn’t have any pain, and my recovery was so fast!” said Mrs. Elphie. “My kids said I was shining, and the doctors and nurses were wonderful. It saved my life!”

Six years later, Mrs. Elphie continues to enjoy life with her family, great grandchildren and her cat. Her walls are adorned with a multitude of family photographs, new and old, along with her daughter’s paintings. She keeps busy as an avid reader and book collector—her favorite authors being James Patterson, John Grisham, Harlan Coben, and C.J. Box. “I do a lot of reading and crossword puzzles to keep my mind active and capture my time,” Mrs. Elphie said. “I can never learn enough!” She is also strong-willed and remains active, changing the cat litter, making coffee and baking biscuits.

“She was always independent and constantly pursuing knowledge,” explained Lee Lee Trosclair, Mrs. Elphie’s daughter “She had a drive to learn and teach, which shows in that three of her eight children became educators.”

When talking to Mrs. Elphie, you can feel her love for life. With her big smile and kind laugh, she says that the secrets to a long life are pursuing knowledge, holding loved ones near, keeping your brain active, and having a positive attitude.