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Raymond and Mazie Huggins, the feisty West Virginia couple who last year insisted on undergoing heart surgery for the same condition on the same day, have survived the odds to live another year.
At 94 and 97, their hearts —and their love for each other —still beat on, and on Oct. 10 they celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary.
“We are doing really well,” Raymond, also known as “Huggie Bear,” told TODAY. The former prison guard said the secret to their long marriage was “totally trusting and believing in each other.”
“It’s all about give and take,” Mazie chimed in.
Their family has invited 89 guests from across the country, including 12 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, to a party at the skilled nursing facility in Erie, Pennsylvania, where the couple, who married in 1940, recently moved to be close to their son.
They live in side-by-side rooms at LECOM, a new senior living center run by Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. They spend their days together, listening to music, playing cards or dining with new friends.
“Until then, they lived independently,” said Roger Huggins, a retired food company sales rep. “Last year at this time, prior to the heart valve replacement, my father went outside on a rocker to pick apples off his tree and made 79 quarts of homemade apple butter.”
Huggins, 68, describes his father as a “very strong and a tremendously hard worker” and his mother, an “angelic” woman who worries about others and is beloved by all who know her.
“Father is extremely aware and his mental capacity is amazing,” he told TODAY.
One special guest was their two-week old great-grandson Levi Raymond Heller, whose middle name is a tribute to his great-grandfather.
“I better get a new hat,” Raymond quipped when the baby’s name was revealed. “My head is getting bigger and bigger.”
“He was tickled to death,” Mazie, a former dental secretary, told TODAY.
Family means everything to Raymond and Mazie, whose younger son died four years ago.
“You lose family ties as you get older,” said Raymond. “Fortunately, moving here to Erie, we are closer to family.”
Just last August, both Raymond and Mazie were critically ill with aortic stenosis and coronary heart disease and had back-to-back surgeries at the Cleveland Clinic.
Each received a stent and underwent life-saving transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR. The procedure is designed for those who typically can’t withstand the risk of open-heart surgery. A catheter is wound through an artery in the groin and into the heart muscle.
The Hugginses may not be the oldest patients to have undergone TAVR surgery, but they were the first couple to have the procedure together, according to their surgeon, interventional cardiologist Dr. Samir Kapadia.
Kapadia said the couple was closely monitored.
“About 15 percent don’t make it through the first year,” he told TODAY. “That is an outstanding statistic if you look at the general population, but because of their age, we were a bit concerned. Amazingly enough, they had one major setback —Mazie [had an] infection —but they are constantly getting better.”
He attributes their recovery to the couple’s special relationship and the support they get from family.
“The most important predictor of how people do at this age with an advanced procedure is emotional support and something to look forward to,” he said. “If you don’t have that vigor, it is typically disastrous, and without keeping active, the complications of life happen.”
Longevity runs in the family. Mazie’s maternal grandmother lived to be 108. Raymond said one of his goals has been to live to 100 and see himself on the Smucker’s jar.
Last year, the Hugginses’ heartwarming story went viral after being reported by TODAY, according to their son. But two “negative” comments struck a nerve.
“The point was, why are you wasting Medicare money on someone who is 96 and 93?” he explained. “I guess they don’t understand … You want to see your grandchildren grow. Fortunately, technology allowed us to do that.”
“If they had not had the heart valve replacement,” he added, “we wouldn’t have been blessed with them here today.”