After rare back-to-back heart procedures, this 74-year-old is back to his active lifestyle

Owen Norton, 74, has always prided himself on staying active.
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 1:52 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 20, 2023 at 5:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Owen Norton, 74, has always prided himself on staying active.

“I’m fully retired six-and-a-half years and I’ve been playing tennis, riding my bike, swimming here and there, hiking,” Norton said.

But last year, life took a detour when he noticed a sudden shortness of breath, which was diagnosed as an atrial flutter. The cardiology team at Straub Medical Center quickly helped him get it resolved.

He thought that was the end of it, but then the problems returned.

“He started to have shortness of breath and limitation again in his physical activity,” said Straub cardiologist Dr. Jared Oyama. “When we looked on his echocardiogram again, we saw that the valve was severely narrowed.

“Now with symptoms, that was our indication to move forward and get the valve treated.”

It’s extremely rare to have back-to-back heart procedures within a matter of months, but doctors described it this way: The first time was calling in the electrician and now it’s time to bring in the plumber.

Norton underwent a procedure called a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, a gamechanger for heart surgeries. “We can use a specially designed valve that can be compressed,” Oyama explained. “That allows us to put it in through the leg through an incision about the size of my pinky. We follow the body’s own plumbing all the way back to the heart and then we open up the valve, once we’re inside the heart.”

The procedure is minimally invasive and Norton felt better almost immediately ― so good he decided he wanted to make it official with his fiance.

“Within 24 hours I’m discharged and they take me down in a wheelchair drop me off,” Norton said. “I say I feel pretty good, let’s walk down to the Department of Health and let’s get the marriage certificate. Let’s fill that out.”

With hospital bands still on his wrists, he and his fiance Kari put pen to paper and became newlyweds.

“I was glad, but I was also kind of, don’t trip, don’t fall,” Kari said.

“That’s kind of my personality, too. I just kind of take care of everything. He just walks right in there and probably the biggest struggle was getting through the computer paperwork for us.”

Shortly after, he was back to physical activity and they’re now traveling the world.

But he has a word of advice to others: Pay attention to the signs and get help.

“For me the shortness of breath, I’m saying I can’t catch my breath wait a second, I’m not that bad out of shape and it didn’t get better,” Norton said. “The thing is, it was easy. I couldn’t believe how easy it was.”

Easy and for him, fulfilling for the heart in more ways than one.