Patients celebrate key milestone in advanced heart care

Operating room team for Carle's 100th TAVR procedureCarle Heart & Vascular Institute staff, patients and families celebrated the success of the TAVR program this week. Reaching—and then quickly surpassing—the 100th life-saving procedure meant so much to so many, especially Carle’s 100th recipient and the nurse with whom he formed an important bond.

Bill Nickle, who travels from Covington, Ind., to receive care at Carle, is quick to spotlight longtime hospital nurse Michele Priest, RN, (kneeling on right) among the dozens of providers he met and received care from.

“She guided us along. I looked forward to seeing her,” Nickle said. “She was a champ.”

As TAVR program coordinator, Priest uses her skills, sensitivity and positivity to assess and prepare patients like Nickle for the TAVR procedure, as well as support them through rehabilitation. She recently transitioned to outpatient care and calls Nickle and others like him the true champs.

The former pastor, truck driver and farmer stood out for her, as well.

“Bill reminds me of my grandfather, both in stature and his mannerisms,” Priest said. “Above all, he’s a nice man. He’s always smiling. And he never complained.”

He did, however, slow down. And that wasn’t like him.

“I was worn out, and I was getting worse,” Nickle said. “We had to do something.”

Bill Nickle, Carle's 100th TAVR patientEnter TAVR, also known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement. TAVR is an option for some patients with severe aortic stenosis. Instead of open-heart surgery, Carle experts insert a catheter through a puncture in the groin and guide it to the chest using X-ray. Once inside the heart, the device expands to replace the damaged valve, allowing blood to flow and adding years to the patient's life.

Determining eligibility to the non-invasive procedure is tough, but recovery time is quicker than with open-heart-surgery.

Nickle was grateful when the team decided he was a good TAVR candidate.

“I could have kissed them all,” Nickle said of Dr. Sanjay Mehta, Dr. Naveed Adoni, Dr. Matthew Gibb and the team.

Following the TAVR procedure, Nickle’ heart still needed help. It’s not uncommon, Priest said, for patients who have chronic irregular heart rhythms to also need a pacemaker after TAVR.  

With his pacemaker in place, Nickle is doing cardiac rehabilitation and is back working part-time for an organization that transports seniors to doctor’s appointments and other outings. In the dispatch center for now, he hopes to get back on the road soon.

“I always want to get up and go,” said Nickle, who with his wife, Linda, has four sons, eight granddaughters, three grandsons and one step-grandson. Bill and Linda will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary in August.

They praise the team that cares for Nickle but want everyone to know they also rely on prayer.

“At the hospital, one of the doctors told the students with them, ‘This guy is a miracle.’ I told him, ‘I beg to differ. I know the true miracle worker,’” Nickle said.

His faith carries him through tough times—like dealing with atrial fibrillation (AFib) and a stroke and heart attack in 2012.

“You can’t threaten me with heaven,” Nickle added.

Bill and Linda Nickle with most of their grandchildrenWhile still taking it easy, he helps Linda with the dishes and folding clothes. Plus, he’s become an even better cook thanks to her deviled egg and potato salad lessons. 

Priest loves getting to know knowing her TAVR patients and the details of their lives—before and after the procedure. So when Nickle told Priest he wanted a Gold Star like hers, she happily gave him the pin providers receive when patients thank them for their care and service.

“It’s one of my joys, knowing these patients,” she said. “They call me when they have questions because we communicate often in process.

"It’s great to know I’m a comfort to them, that they appreciate the connections as much as I do.”