Rick Smith

Heart patient and horseshoe champion Rick Smith of Wesley, Arkansas is happy to be back in tournament competition, aiming for ringers with every pitch.

Just a few months ago, Rick felt fatigued and had trouble breathing. At age 69, he found it difficult to compete in his treasured horseshoe tournaments, having to take frequent breaks and use supplemental oxygen. His wife, Darcy, was worried about his health and felt she needed to constantly monitor his condition during competition.

When doctors recommended that Rick have a heart valve replacement, however, the couple was hesitant. Heart valve replacement has traditionally required an open heart procedure and, with multiple health issues including COPD, Rick’s recovery from an earlier open heart surgery had taken nearly a year. “During that long recovery there was a lot of anxiety and stress,” Darcy recalls. “It was so difficult – it’s like it changed his soul.”

Fortunately, doctors at Washington Regional Walker Heart Institute were able to offer Rick a minimally invasive option known as TAVR, transcatheter aortic valve replacement. TAVR uses advanced imaging techniques to guide a small catheter inserted in the patient’s leg to replace the aortic valve without opening the chest.

Washington Regional began performing TAVR, formerly available only at large research centers, in 2018 and recently opened a dedicated room for structural heart procedures such as TAVR.

Rick, who says he “instantly felt better” after his TAVR procedure this past July, was able to go home the following day. And, just two weeks after that, “My doctor gave the okay, and I was out pitching that afternoon,” Rick says.

“There has been an amazing difference in his energy level,” Darcy says. “He is able to get up and do things, spend time with his family and play horseshoes without having to take breaks or use oxygen.”

And now, Darcy can enjoy herself at horseshoe tournaments, too, without needing to monitor Rick’s condition. They both are grateful that TAVR offers a chance for a longer life – and improved quality of life – for aortic stenosis patients like Rick who aren’t candidates for open heart surgery. Six months ago, Darcy worried that her husband might not be alive today. And now, she says that although Rick is the one who had the procedure, “Walker Heart Institute saved both of our lives.”