TAVR procedure helps Wichita nun resume active convent life

Sister Catherine Shippen. ASC, underwent transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, in 2019 as part of a clinical research trial of a new valve.
Soon after, the now 86-year-old member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christi, was back to walking an hour a day and her volunteer work at the hospital. She retired in February 2020 just as COVID-19 was making its presence felt, but she continued to help out at her order's convent and remained an avid daily walker.

Sister Catherine says she had begun feeling the effects of aortic stenosis a year or two prior to her diagnosis and subsequent procedure.

"I couldn't breathe," she says. "I found that it took me about a half hour to walk a mile compared to the13 to 15 minutes I was doing. I'd have to stop several times, take a breath, and start all over again."

So she went to see her primary care physician, who referred her to a cardiologist. "I'd never been to a cardiologist before."

While she says she didn't think things were that bad, she learned that her heart was in worse condition than she had thought as after further evaluation she would be diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis.

Her physician referred her to interventional cardiologist Bassem Chehab, MD, who along with cardiothoracic surgeon Brett Grizzell, MD, leads the Structural Heart program at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis. The team determined that she was a candidate for TAVR and she opted to undergo the procedure. She had her procedure on June 5, 2019, and spent five days in the hospital. She then returned to the convent, where she notes with a laugh, "I started messing around again and keeping other people out of trouble. I was dismissed on a Friday and by Sunday I was Eucharistic minister here at the convent."

Sister Catherine's mother lived to be 102 and, she says, "That's what I am going to do, too. At least I'm working at it."

For now, her goal of being back to walking four to five miles a day four to five times a week is hampered only by the pain in her right hip. She recently underwent surgery to replace the bone cement surrounding the artificial hip she received nearly a decade ago, which would not have been possible had she not undergone TAVR. Once she fully recovers from that procedure, Sister Catherine says she has every reason to believe that a return to her previously active life is a real possibility.

"My doc told me my hip's good for another 120 years," she says. "So I am going to be around for a long time."