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94-year-old WWII veteran with three purple hearts wins war against heart failure with help from UAB

WWII veteran, Wade Gladden, back on his feet after procedures via Youtube

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — 94-year-old Wade Gladden arrived at the University of Alabama Birmingham Heart and Vascular Clinic earlier this year with just 20 percent heart function. This may have looked troubling for some, but for a survivor of the Great Depression, and recipient of three, yes three, Purple Hearts during his service in World War II, Gladden never wavered.

The Gadsden native is tough as nails, according to his 67-year-old son.

“I know he’s my dad,” said Gary Gladden of his father, “but he’s the toughest man I’ve ever known.”

Gladden’s then-failing heart was put on a strict long-term plan by UAB interventional cardiologist Mark Sasse, M.D. During the care plan, which took place over a course of 4 months, Gladden received a catheterization to check for blockages in arteries, a balloon valvuloplasty to open a blocked heart valve and enable blood to better flow through the chambers of the heart, a replacement of his old pacemaker for a new one, and to conclude he would go in for a transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure, or TAVR.

“The plan from the beginning was quite complex when you know that Mr. Gladden is 90-plus years old, his heart was weakened, he had aortic valve disease and a pacemaker that may have been pacing too much — and he needed all of these procedures just to get to the point of feeling good,” Sasse said. “That’s a lot of procedures for someone in his age group.”

The WWII veteran wasn’t worried, he was confident in the UAB physicians and ready for the doctor’s plan.

“I trusted the doctor and decided that his plan was the only way to go. He convinced me it was the right way to go,” said Gladden.

Dr. Sasse was confident because of Gladden’s attitude and veteran status knowing that the procedures would go smoothly without a hitch.

“If he could survive World War II, three times being wounded, he would be one who would survive three of these major procedures, and get through it properly, and do it happily at each stage of the game,” said Sasse.

The fourth and final step was for Gladden to undergo the transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure, or TAVR. The procedure was performed by James Davies, M.D., and this select procedure is for patients with severe symptomatic aortic stenosis or a narrowing of the aortic valve opening.


Related: UAB adds another game-changing accomplishment in a long line of heart surgery innovations


Luckily for Gladden, and others like him, UAB is the first and largest comprehensive heart valve program in the state for procedures like TAVR. UAB’s physicians have performed more than 300 TAVRs in UAB Hospital since 2012.

Gladden returned to Gadsden three days after his TAVR procedure walking the farthest he had in years without struggling to breathe.

“I feel normal now,” Gladden said. “I have a physical therapist who comes and walks with me a few times a week. I can walk now without even breathing hard, and before I had to stop and rest. I think I’ve surprised a lot of people.”

The UAB physicians say they take great pride in their work, and after caring for an American hero like Gladden, are left inspired.

“He survived all of this in World War II and all of these medical problems, and he’s still super positive and happy,” said Sasse. “It’s amazing we could take care of someone who has served our country in such a way.”


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