Stories from the Heart


Surprising stories of hope and recovery.

Judith’s Heart Story 

A Patient-Centered Team Approach

Like any mother and wife, Judith Lilly, 74, holds family close to her heart. But, unfortunately, after a bout with cancer and advanced kidney disease, Judith learned that same organ wrapped in love needed life-changing surgery.

It was shortness of breath and chest pain that landed Judith in the care of Dr. Ben Plaisance, cardiologist with Cardiovascular Associates (CVA). Judith was then referred to Dr. Matthew Sample, interventional cardiologist, also with CVA, who determined she needed two heart valve replacements. Her first heart surgery was in 2016.

“Before my surgery, I was so tired and had so much trouble breathing, I couldn’t do much of anything,” she said. “But now, I go to football games to see my grandson play at Thompson and I have a granddaughter at UAB that I get to go see twirl.”

Judith underwent an aortic valve replacement on June 8, 2018, and returned July 18 for a mitral valve replacement. The heart is comprised of four valves and Dr. Sample repaired two of Judith’s valves with transcatheter procedures, which require only a small incision in the leg, as opposed to traditional open-heart surgery.

“We anticipate patients going home after this type of surgery in about two days with bandages on the legs and not much rehab. If she had open heart surgery, it would have required much more time in the hospital, but these catheter-based procedures are much less invasive with a much quicker recovery,” Dr. Sample said.

Though Birmingham is full of options for care, Judith is grateful her path lead to the staff at CVA.

“I couldn’t say enough about the team. They were so caring and gave me whatever I needed,” she said.

Dr. Sample credits the heart team approach as the key to success in Judith’s case. 

“At CVA, the success we got with Mrs. Lilly’s case was not due to any one person. With this heart team, patient-centered approach, cardiologists and surgeons now realize we can do more together than we could ever do apart,” he said.

Gladly, Judith doesn’t battle these health issues alone. Chester Lilly, her husband of 52 years, also attests to the improvement he sees in his wife.

“She just wasn’t getting enough oxygen. But, now she has gone from needing a wheelchair to walking on her own. After her surgery, I saw immediate improvement,” Chester said.

Judith continues to progress well and supports her grandchildren in their sports and other activities—as well as making her own travel plans.

“We still haven’t taken our trip yet, but plan to get to the beach for some sun soon!” 

James’s Heart Story 

World Class Care Close to Home

“On the morning of Friday, March 31, 2017, I woke up at home in my bed not realizing I was going to have a rendezvous with death. I felt tightness in my chest so I asked my wife, Shirley, to give me an aspirin and call the paramedics. Fortunately, they didn’t have far to come and were there in less than 10 minutes. The paramedics examined me and concluded I needed to be transported to the nearest hospital, Grandview Medical Center.

“While in transport, I flatlined in the ambulance and was revived. When I arrived at the hospital, I was put in an emergency room and I flatlined a second time. They transferred me to the cath lab, where I flatlined a third and fourth time.

“After 25 days in CICU, I recovered and my rendezvous with death resulted in a walk with God through the valley of the shadow of death instead.

“My recovery was nothing less than a miracle. I owe my recovery to the fervent prayers of my church family and friends as well as the excellent healthcare provided by the professionals at Grandview Medical Center and my cardiologist Dr. Juan Bernal with Alabama Cardiovascular Group. My wife, Shirley, was impressed with how determined the professionals at Grandview Medical Center were in saving my life and meeting my healthcare needs.

“In December, I turned 75.  I am still going strong.  After spending more than 25 years as an instructor with Virginia College, today I continue my career in network security and certification.

When not working, I enjoy spending time with my wife and our three children, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.”

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