A Qualicum Beach couple shares more than their love for each other — they also share the same heart defect.
They may be the only husband and wife in Canada to have back-to-back transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) procedures.
Paul, who is 94-years-old and Betty Schiller, who is 91, both suffered from severe aortic stenosis, which is the hardening of a heart valve. This prevents blood from flowing from the heart to the body properly, Betty said.
At the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, a TAVI was performed on both Betty and Paul within 16 days of each other.
The new valve is inserted into the heart through a catheter inserted into the groin, Paul said.
“They push wire up into your heart and push aside the old valve… and put in the new valve, which is mostly made of pigmentation and aluminum,” Betty said.
Paul also acquired a pacemaker, which now matches Betty’s.
“We’re almost bionic,” Betty said.
Before their procedures, they attributed symptoms of fatigue, pain in the chest and breathing inability to their age, but as time went on the symptoms worsened.
Paul said he couldn’t buy the large jugs of milk anymore because he was too weak to lift them.
“If I walked a little bit I’d have severe heart pains,” Paul said.
Paul was even hospitalized one night because he couldn’t breathe, Betty said.
Betty said they were lucky to have the surgery at all.
“So many people need it (the operation)” Betty said.
“You’re lucky when they schedule you that they don’t postpone it,” Paul said.
They had to pass multiple tests to ensure that they were mentally capable to have the procedure, Betty said.
“That’s why they chose us, we’re young at heart,” Betty said. “Mentally, we’re just so alert.”
“When I came back from the hospital, on the second day, I went with my scooter downtown. I don’t give up living,” Paul said.
“Without this operation, Paul and I would have died,” Betty said. “We couldn’t breathe.”
Three hours before the operation, Betty went into cardiac arrest.
“My wife was getting dizzy spells,” Paul said. “The day we took her to the hospital she went into cardiac arrest and was dead for seven minutes.”
Paul and Betty say they are in full recovery and that the hospital staff was wonderful. “I was treated like a celebrity,” Betty said.
Paul said he attributes his recovery to optimism, staying active and having a good sense of humour.
“The past is gone — there’s no use worrying about it,” Paul said. “That’s the key to longevity.”
As they were putting her under for the procedure, Betty said instead of counting down from 100, she sang I’ve Got You Under My Skin by Frank Sinatra.
Betty said the nurses were holding up sheets and “I had to sing the whole damn song.”
“It’s given us five years of life again, it’s fantastic,” Betty said.
Paul and Betty have been living in their Qualicum Beach home for 35 years and Paul continues to ride his scooter into town every day and cook for Betty.
Betty’s surgery was performed on May 12 and Paul’s was on May 28.
The couple has been together for 55 years.