Brave Heart: War Vet's New Lease on Life

Gerald Hoffman is a U.S. Army veteran who's fought and won two major, life-threatening battles. As a young staff sergeant and tank commander, he supported Allied troops fighting Hitler’s forces in World War II. Many years later, the 91-year-old received assistance from MitraClip®, a tiny medical device, to triumph against a different enemy: a serious heart condition known as mitral regurgitation that affects nearly one in every 10 Americans over age 75.

In mid-December, veterans, dignitaries and others will gather to mark the 70th anniversary of the "Battle of the Bulge." It was an event that defined Hoffman’s life. During this historic battle, he endured seven days in a freezing foxhole and the loss of his commanding general and entire tank crew, followed by six weeks in an Army hospital to recover from serious injuries.

Gerald Hoffman’s bravery during the historic
World War II Battle of the Bulge earned him
the prestigious Purple Heart medal.  

Hoffman's sacrifices and courage earned him a Purple Heart medal, a prestigious U.S. military honor given to soldiers wounded in combat. Decades later, he confronted another deadly and more personal enemy: mitral regurgitation. This is a condition that occurs when the leaflets of the mitral valve, which transfers blood between the heart’s left atrium and left ventricle, do not close completely, allowing blood to leak backward into the atrium and lungs. Mitral regurgitation affects nearly one in 10 Americans aged 75 and older, and worsens over time. Left untreated, mitral regurgitation most typically results in heart failure and, ultimately, death.

Hoffman fought mitral regurgitation for years, dealing with progressively worsening symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, and persistent cough. The condition dominated his life, preventing him from participating in his favorite activities, including Wii bowling and reading, and leaving him confined to a wheelchair. Doctors altered Hoffman’s medications to help address his symptoms, but told him not much else could be done, given that he was not well enough for surgery.

Finally, in October 2014, Hoffman and his family learned about a new, minimally-invasive therapy that could be used to fight mitral regurgitation: Abbott’s MitraClip®, a tiny device that treats mitral regurgitation by clipping together the leaflets of the mitral valve. MitraClip reduces the backward flow of blood through the valve and helps the heart work more efficiently. The device is implanted through a catheter inserted into a vein in the leg, without the need to stop the heart or perform open-heart surgery, making it a suitable option for Hoffman.

Just as courageously as he fought during the Battle of the Bulge 70 years ago, Hoffman seized the opportunity to fight mitral regurgitation: "The MitraClip offered the chance for a better life, and I decided to go for it," he says. One month after the procedure, Hoffman’s mitral regurgitation and symptoms were greatly reduced. No longer confined to a wheelchair, he is able to walk more each day and participate in his Wii bowling league. And he's back to beating his son-in-law at cards.

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