TAVR Gave Me My Life Back
In 2002, I retired as the first black police chief of Selma, Alabama. I wanted to spend my days at my farm, caring for my cows and baling hay. But a few years ago, I started noticing I just didn’t feel right. I felt tired all the time—people commented on how slow I was walking and how pale I looked. I’d walk a piece and then have to take a break to catch my breath. And I got to the point where I couldn’t eat anything—my wife, Norma Jean, would make me dinner but I’d push it away.
So I was losing weight—my clothes had gotten too big for me. And I couldn’t sleep in my bed—I’d get short of breath lying down. I’d have to leave the bedroom and go sit up in a chair in the den to sleep. I was so sick. I was getting weaker and weaker. It wasn’t a way to live.
My wife is a retired nurse, and she knew something was wrong. She tried to hide her concern, but when you’ve been married as long as we have, you can’t hide anything. I finally went to my doctor, who referred me to his heart doctor. And he said I definitely had a problem, and then referred me to cardiologists at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
The doctors told me that I had a condition called aortic stenosis; they said that my aortic valve was very narrow. They thought I was too weak to have open-heart surgery, and I agreed with them. So they scheduled me for transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) instead. They said they would thread a valve through a catheter in my thigh to replace the valve in my heart. And I said, let’s do it.
I never got scared—I knew, as sick as I was, that something needed to happen. I knew I wasn’t going to live long if I stayed the way I was. They had to do something to keep me on this earth, and I was ready to do anything they told me, or else I was going to have to plan my own funeral.
After the TAVR procedure, I didn’t really feel any pain. They offered me pain medicine, but I still haven’t taken any to this day. My wife, two sons, and my niece were all with me to support me. I was in the ICU the night after the procedure, and in the morning, the doctor came in to check on me. He said, “I can’t believe you’re sitting up and smiling at me, as sick as you were yesterday!” I told him, “I don’t know what y’all did, but whatever it is, it’s working.”
I was in the hospital for three days and I was glad to get home. I went back to the doctor a few weeks later and he did some tests and then told me that everything looked good, and I needed to come back to see him in a year. A year hasn’t passed since my surgery, but I did go up a couple months ago to have lunch with my doctor and other staff members. I wanted to show him how great I’m doing.
I’m blessed. I’m blessed to be on this earth. And I tell everyone to go see the doctor if you’re not feeling right. I tell them to go get checked! Because if it hadn’t been for the doctor, I’d be gone. But instead, I’m here on this earth with my wife, kids and grandchildren, and I love to be on my farm, baling hay and tending to my cows.
Earnest Tate is 80 years old and lives in Selma, Alabama with his wife of 54 years, Norma Jean.
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