WVU Heart and Vascular Institute helps a runner get back on the road

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Paul Pennington of Bluefield loves to run. He started running cross country in junior high and continued into adulthood, extending his distance to include half and full marathons. For him, running is a way to deal with the daily stresses he encounters.

Paul Pennington finishes a marathon in November 2017 after having his valve replacement.
Paul Pennington finishes a marathon in November 2017 after having his valve replacement.

“It’s a stress reliever. It’s an addiction basically,” Pennington said. “I just love the feeling of getting out and the freedom of it. You just hit the road and forget all about the stress.”

Pennington was born with an aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aortic valve that prevents blood flow from the heart. He and his family knew about his condition and monitored its progression throughout his life. He was referred to Anthony Morise, M.D., a cardiologist at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute in Morgantown, who helped him manage his condition until it required surgery. 

Pennington could tell that his aortic stenosis was beginning to make running more difficult. He would experience shortness of breath, dizziness, and fatigue. 

“I wear a Garmin to keep up with my heart rate, and it was getting higher as my times were getting slower,” Pennington said. “I was getting more fatigued, and it was a lot rougher on me finishing a long run.”

The Monday after completing a half marathon, Pennington went to a regularly scheduled appointment with Dr. Morise, who told him his aortic stenosis had reached the point that surgery would be necessary and referred him to Vinay Badhwar, M.D., executive chair of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute. Dr. Badhwar placed a mechanical valve to replace the narrowed valve that was preventing proper blood flow through Pennington’s aorta.

Pennington’s first question was about how soon he could start to run again after the surgery. After spending less than a week in the hospital, he was able to start focusing on recovery. He would take short walks to the end of the block, gradually increasing his distance. After about eight weeks, he was able to start running again while monitoring his heart rate.

“I’m not as fatigued now, and my times are better,” Pennington said. “I feel like a whole new person regarding my physical fitness. I didn’t realize how bad the valve was until I had a new one.”

Since his surgery, Pennington has completed two 10K runs locally and a half marathon at Marshall University. 

“Words aren’t enough to express how this has changed me and my family,” Pennington said. “I have a new lease on life and a second chance to do everything. My live was saved with this surgery.”