At 97, Wallas Hylton sets a record of sorts

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 17, 2017

By Susan Shinn Turner

For the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — If only newspapers had a laugh track. Then you could hear Wallas Hylton’s laugh. It’s a bit high-pitched, and it’s loud, and he laughs often around family.

A recent morning at Checkered Flag BBQ restaurant found Hylton with plenty to laugh about, despite the loss of his wife in March and heart surgery a month later. At 97, Hylton was the oldest patient at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte to have a new procedure to replace a blocked heart valve. So that’s a lot to celebrate.

As he does every morning, he was having breakfast with his son Billy, grandson Andy, and daughter Pam Hylton Coffield. They’re amazed at the progress their patriarch has made these past few weeks.

Margaret, Hylton’s wife of nearly 76 years, died March 14.

“I guess that set it off,” Hylton said of his recent round of heart problems, which began shortly after Margaret’s funeral. Coffield noticed her dad was out of breath after climbing a flight of steps at home, the house the Hyltons shared since 1960.

That could mean heart problems, Coffield thought. Wallas Hylton had a heart attack in 1998 and knows what it feels like. But everything checked out — until he had an EKG.

His cardiologist, Dr. Telly Meadows, discovered that one valve was pretty much closed. The valve that should have been the size of a quarter was about the size of a pinhead, she noted. “You can see how shortness of breath would be there. The blood can’t get through.”

On April 4, Meadows recommended a heart valve replacement. That was the bad news. The good news was that there’s now a new procedure that is much less invasive than open-heart surgery. Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) uses a catheter inserted through the groin to put a new valve inside the diseased one.

Without the procedure, Hylton would have about six months to live. At his age, he wondered if it was worth it, but he decided to have surgery.

“Did you have any fear?” Billy Hylton asked his dad

“Not really,” he replied.

There was no urgency for the surgery until Easter Sunday. Coffield had spent the night with her father, and they were ready to go to breakfast before church.

“You were sitting on the bed and sweating,” she told her dad. “You said you were having a heart attack.”

Another trip to the ER, and everything checked out. Hylton stayed in the hospital overnight, and the surgery was moved up.

Hylton laughed when recalling the ambulance ride to Charlotte.

“If I were riding in the back of a flat-bed truck, it would not have been worse,” he said. “That was the worst ride I ever took in my life. Golly, that was awful, and they charged me $1,000.”

“They charged by the bump,” grandson Andy said.

Hylton had surgery April 20. The surgeon told his family it would take two to three hours, but it took only an hour.

“I didn’t even know it,” Hylton says.

“You were irritable,” Billy Hylton said. “You were trying to get out of bed, and you didn’t want any help. I told you to lie still and be still. It was an experience for everybody.”

The new valve started working immediately, Coffield said, but Hylton didn’t think it was. After a follow-up visit and an assurance from his doctor, he started feeling better.

“Think about that,” Coffield marveled. “A week of recovery compared to months of physical therapy.”

Physical therapy is helping him regain his balance. He has resumed his normal routine and lives at home with the help of caregivers, a practice the family started when Margaret needed help. Pam, Billy and Andy take turns spending the night.

Her dad really only needs the companionship, Coffield said.

“If you’re by yourself for too long, the devil comes in and starts to stir up your mind,” Hylton said.

Hylton said it’s tough without Margaret. “We were just one, really.”

“We have a lot of good memories,” Billy Hylton said.

At home, Hylton keeps up his regular exercise routine — moving his arms, legs, toes and ankles — and practices the exercises his therapists taught him. He keeps his own finances on Quicken and keeps the books for the family’s investment company, which owns some rental property.

He’s on Twitter and follows what President Donald Trump posts, along with posts from The Stitchin’ Post, the business Margaret Hylton and Coffield founded 42 years ago. He recently renewed his driver’s license online. It’s good until 2022.

Hylton laughed again.

He’s not sure he’ll live to see 100, but his children think he has a pretty good chance. For now, he’s happy to gather with his family each morning at Checkered Flag.

“He’s a special guy, and Mother was a special lady,” Billy Hylton said.