As Bill Schwindler approached 85, he was battling shortness of breath so severe he couldn’t sleep at night. He’d been admitted twice to the hospital for congestive heart failure. But at his age and medical condition, open heart surgery to replace a failing valve was considered risky.
He had to give up playing golf and fretted about what the rest of his life held for him.
Today, he’s back doing what he loves — which also includes his regular gig playing accordion at the Waldhorn Restaurant, a popular German restaurant in Pineville, North Carolina, and spending time with his four daughters, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren — largely thanks to a procedure that allows surgeons to replace faulty valves without cracking open the chest.
“I had surgery on a Thursday morning and there I am sitting at home at noon on Saturday, shaking my head in amazement,” Schwindler said. “What a difference a couple days make.”
Back in 2004, Schwindler had an open-heart aortic valve replacement surgery. After several years, the valve from that procedure started deteriorating and had a severe leak that caused blood to go backward, said Dr. Oluseun Alli, an interventional cardiologist at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. The treatment: Alli performed a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure in March.
TAVR, (rhymes with "gather"), is a minimally invasive procedure performed in most cases through the groin via a small incision and feeding a replacement valve into the heart.
“In patients such as Bill, TAVR is an excellent option where we can replace the valve without putting him through the increased risk associated with open-heart surgery,” Alli said. “Most people after TAVR bounce back very quickly, feel better and have no major aches and pains. They go back to most of their activities.”
Alli said his team recommends for TAVR patients to follow up with their cardiologist following the procedure as well as maintain a healthy diet and active lifestyle. The active lifestyle, especially, should be no problem for Schwindler.
Seven decades of adventure with the accordion … and counting
Schwindler knows that being a professional accordion player these days is a bit unusual. For that matter, kids used to tease him as a teenager growing up in Buffalo when he left football and baseball practice to learn the instrument. He was the youngest in a family of four children and said his father spent good money on a shiny new accordion for his oldest brother, who decided it was not for him. Schwindler’s father announced someone was going to have to play it, and that wound up being Bill. “I got it figured out and I’ve played it 70 years,” Schwindler said.
Back in the day, Schwindler would perform in trios in the Buffalo area, where he recalls couples would dress up and go to dinner and dance for hours afterward to live music.
His wife, Dona, something of a saint for putting up with his performance schedule on top of his old day job of installing elevators and escalators, died in 2014. Schwindler said he misses her still, but finds joy these days with his family and entertaining crowds with his accordion.
Each night playing is a bit of an adventure. “I stroll around the restaurant when I play the Waldhorn. I never stay in one spot,” Schwindler said. “Recently, I saw a group celebrating, and they looked like they were ready to party. They were hooting and hollering. You could hear them all the way at the other end. They were having a grand old time. I mentioned to them between songs I was from Buffalo, and the woman whose birthday it was said she was from Buffalo, too.”
The party talked back and forth with Schwindler about where they’d lived before and what brought them down to Charlotte. Then, for Schwindler, it was on to more songs.
For more information on heart care provided at Novant Health, click here.