Lloyd Charlton celebrated his 90th birthday in style. At a party last year, to the delight of the crowd gathered, he and his 20-year-old granddaughter, Bridget Charlton, tap danced together to the song "Chattanooga Choo Choo." Their soft-shoe debut proved especially poignant as Mr. Charlton came close to missing this milestone altogether.
"We got applause, but no one asked us for an encore," says Mr. Charlton, now 91.
Forget encore, Mr. Charlton nearly missed the chance to show off his footwork had it not been for Robert Kipperman, MD, co-director of the Valve and Structural Heart Program at Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute.
Only six months before his dancing duet, Mr. Charlton woke up with a pain in his chest. "I couldn't take a deep breath and thought I had pneumonia," he says.
After an x-ray at a nearby hospital, he was rushed by ambulance to Morristown Medical Center, where Dr. Kipperman diagnosed a torn heart valve. This means his valve wasn't closing fully and blood was regurgitating back instead of flowing out to his body. The remedy would be a MitraClip® Valve procedure.
"It wasn't a good prognosis," says Terry, his wife of 17 years. "It was either going to turn out very bad, or good. It turned out very good, but he was hanging on a thread for a while."
Mr. Charlton was certainly in the right place, as Morristown was one of the first East Coast hospitals to offer this repair, and Dr. Kipperman served as an original investigator. For the procedure, a camera was inserted through Mr. Charlton's esophagus to guide Dr. Kipperman's hands as he inserted a catheter in his patient's thigh and up the artery to his heart, where he attached two clips onto the valve.
Throughout the medical crisis, Mr. Charlton's family also remained in caring hands. When his three children arrived, doctors calmly explained the situation to each one.
"They started from the top and re-explained the whole procedure every time," says Mrs. Charlton. "They consistently came across as optimistic, even as serious as it was. I will always remember their kindness and patience. Their demeanor helped me in coping with everything."
Seeing her active husband so incapacitated proved difficult, a profound departure for the man who learned to play the trumpet at age 80 and still enjoys gardening and leading historic tours through Boonton, his birthplace.
After the successful procedure, Mr. Charlton decided to pay it forward, based on a connection he shared with Dr. Kipperman — both graduated from Boonton High School. To show his gratitude, Mr. Charlton nominated his doctor for Boonton High's Wall of Fame. It's an honor Mr. Charlton received for self-publishing four books about his beloved hometown. Today, Dr. Kipperman's name appears on the same wall as a "Medical Cardio Pioneer."
"And surely, he is just that," says Mr. Charlton. "Thanks to him, I plan on living another 20 years." That's time enough to enjoy many more daffodils and dances. Here's to encores.
To learn more about Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute, contact Cynthia W. O'Donnell, JD at 973.593.2418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.