Two-hearts (continue to) beat as one for over 50-years of marriage

Charles and Lorena Sweeney

One of the keys to living a long life is having a strong heart. For Valentine’s Day, K R P S’s Fred Fletcher-Fierro tells us about a Southwest Missouri couple who are enjoying healthy hearts and lives into their ’80s thanks to a procedure, they both had a Freeman hospital in Joplin. 

The world has changed a lot since 1970. The Kansas Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl 4. The first earth day was celebrated, and the Beatles officially broke-up. But one thing that has remained the same is the 51-year marriage of Charles and Lorena Sweeney. Lorena recalls the story of how they met so many years ago. 

“Well, we actually met working at Foremost Dairy, and we worked together for four or five years, I guess.”

The Sweeney’s

In the late ‘1960, Charles was a manager at Foremost Dairy, sold to Deane Foods in 2009, and Lorena was his secretary. The couple’s first date, outside of work, of all events, was a wedding. Lorena remembers,

“My closest friend, who worked in the accounts payable department, was getting married, and we were going to the wedding, and huh, and neither one of us had anywhere to with, so we, together and that was, it started it all off.”

The Sweeney’s speaking about the TARV’s procedure at Freeman Joplin

It started it all off, alright. Over 50-years of marriage, kids of their own, grand-kids, they’ve traveled to all 50-states. They have visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming 5 times! But overall, those years, trips, and memories, there is one time that Charles will never forget. The day he knew he was in love with Lorena. Charles was invited over to her parent’s house for supper. 

“And I walk in, and there’s two sisters, her brother, their family, her mom and dad, and anybody else that was involved in their family. I said, uh oh, something’s up. The next thing I knew, that was it.”

The couple has shared a lifetime of memories, vacations, playing board games, and conversations together. They also share something else that is much less common. They both have undergone life-saving transcatheter aortic valve replacement surgery at Freeman Health System in Joplin. Cardiologist Dr. John Cox explains how the procedure works. 

“TAVR’s, we were putting a device in through the skin, so trans-stenosis aortic valve replacement, so instead of opening the chest, we’re able to go through a poke in the thigh.  

Dr. John Cox of Freeman Joplin

Freeman started offering TAVR’s as a replacement to the open-heart surgeries three-years ago. They have completed about 200 of the procedures. To learn and study the TAVR’s process, Dr. Cox has traveled to Germany, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. The course is recommended when patients have restricted blood-flow from their heart to the rest of their body. He says that it’s gratifying to have such a specialized procedure that dramatically impacts people’s lives.

“People, who with heart disease obviously don’t always do well, and so to have a procedure you can do that, that is that much of a game-changer that you have, sudden improvement on how one feels is not a common thing.”

Dr. Cox emphasizes that the TAVR’s procedure is not without side effects and is not for every patient with heart disease. A six-month recovery is expected, as muscle is pulled and bones that have to heal. The vast majority of patients usually heal and live active lives. According to the doctor, our genes play a role in whether we will develop heart disease. But there are ways that we can project our hearts. 

“About 80 percent of heath disease can be affected by lifestyle, and that is, the healthy diet, a Mediterranean style diet, regular physical exercise, 30-minutes of exercise 5 days a week, keeping your weight down, keeping your blood pressure and your blood sugar under control.” 

Dr. Cox also recommends getting on cholesterol medications if you have a family history of high cholesterol. The earlier you start paying to attend and regularly monitoring your heart health, the fewer problems you’re likely to have. Back to the Sweeney’s, how is Lorena feeling in her early ’80s after TARV’s surgery? 

“I feel, I feel great, I can still work, usually one day a week, play the piano and organ at the church and teach a Sunday school lesson and I’m very active, and I love to cook, so I just feel great.”

With another Valentine’s day on the horizon, Charles says, the secret to a long, loving, and lasting relationship is to come to an understanding that it’s give and take. That no marriage is perfect, and that each couple is going to have their ups and downs. But he did have one slice of advice to say to husband’s after over 50-years of being married. 

Listen to your wife.

Words to live by. 


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