Category Archives: Madison County “in the news”

Replace a heart valve without open-heart surgery? Huntsville Hospital can

Medical inventor and Huntsville native Stanton "Stan" Rowe is interviewed about his new heart valve device at the Westin Huntsville on Oct. 23, 2014. (Lee Roop/

Medical inventor and Huntsville native Stanton “Stan” Rowe is interviewed about his new heart valve device at the Westin Huntsville on Oct. 23, 2014. (Lee Roop/

Replace a heart valve in an hour without open-heart surgery with the patient awake on the table? It sounds like something from “Star Trek,” but a procedure invented by a Huntsville native has allowed surgeons around the world to do just that 150,000 times since 2002. It’s so accepted Medicare will pay for it, but it’s still rare enough that only two hospitals in Birmingham performed it in Alabama before this summer.

Now, Huntsville Hospital has joined the hospitals able to perform the procedure as a treatment for the disease called aortic stenosis. A team led by cardiologist Dr. Alex Vasquez has done a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) on seven patients since Aug. 12.

The aortic valve passes blood from the heart back through the body, but in patients suffering from aortic stenosis, the valve is clogged with calcium buildup and able to move only a small fraction of the blood the body needs. The results can range from loss of energy and fainting spells to heart failure and sudden death.

The disease affects people over 65

“It occurs in 12 percent of patients over 80,” medical inventor Stan Rowe said in a Thursday interview. Rowe, a graduate of Huntsville High School and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is now chief scientific officer with Edwards Lifesciences LLC in Irvine, Calif.

“It’s an insidious disease,” Rowe said. “That’s one of the challenges. This loss of energy that’s probably the biggest symptom occurs over months because the disease has taken years. It’s under-diagnosed.”

heart valve
The valve used to replace the aortic heart valve. (Courtesy Edwards Lifesciences)

The traditional treatment is open heart surgery. “The cardiothoracic surgeon, who does amazing work, cuts through your sternum, opens your chest, puts you on cardiopulmonary bypass, cuts open your aorta and removes the diseased valve, then puts in with 30 sutures a new surgical valve.

“We’re the world’s leading maker of surgical valves, too,” Rowe said, “so what these surgeons do is amazing. Their mortality rate is only about 3 percent – phenomenal – but it’s a really rough procedure on older patients. A lot of older patients have other medical problems … that may put you at high risk.”

The new procedure is for high-risk surgical patients, Rowe said, “because it’s done on a beating heart. You can do this without general anesthesia while the patient’s awake on the table.”

In the procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in the upper thigh to access the femoral artery, which goes directly to the heart. A guide wire is inserted, then a sheath or conduit. A balloon catheter is inserted to dilate the valve. Then, the valve is pushed through and docked with the balloon. The valve is put in place and the diseased valve is pushed out of the way. The procedure takes about an hour. Patients go home in three-to-five days and recover in a month.

They said: It won’t work, we don’t need it

“This idea had been around, but no one had ever made one,” Rowe said. “No one knew what it should look like. A lot of people said it won’t work and we don’t need it, mostly the folks already doing the procedures. So I founded the company that developed this procedure in January of 2000 with two cardiologists, myself and one other engineer. We raised money, did the early engineering and by April 2002 did our first case in Europe. It shocked a lot of people that it worked. We did 14 cases before I sold the company to Edwards Lifesciences.”

So, what’s next? “Great question,” Rowe said. “Next is the mitral valve, which is a bigger deal than this one. It’s leakage, it’s not narrowed, it’s leaky. We have the same issue there that there’s no great option for replacing a valve in the mitral position. I worked for five years to develop a trans-catheter mitral valve, and we just started doing those clinical trials in January.”

A Huntsville Hospital, the procedure involves a number of medical disciplines including cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, imaging cardiologists, cardiac anesthesiologists and perfusionists as well as operating room and cardiac cath lab staff, all in the same room, at the same time.

The cardiologist members of the TAVR team are Vasquez, Joshua Krasnow, Michael Butler, Mihir Kanitkar, Sean Groark and Michael Ridner. Cardiovascular surgeons on the team include Drs. Benton Washburn, Shaf Holden and Aaron Hoffman. Katherine Meier, RN, is coordinator of the Valve Clinic.

To learn more, go to the website

Replace a heart valve without open-heart surgery? Huntsville Hospital joins the few facilities that can |

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Town Madison developers negotiating with 10 big box stores

Conceptional drawing of what the main retail, restaurant and entertainment portion of Town Madison could resemble when it opens in late 2016 or early 2017.

Conceptional drawing of what the main retail, restaurant and entertainment portion of Town Madison could resemble when it opens in late 2016 or early 2017.

Negotiations are in the works with 10 potential anchor stores for Town Madison, which the retail developer for the 800,000-square-foot shopping center said it right on schedule for recruiting the first tenants.

Josh Beyer, vice president of development for the Florida, Gulf Coast region of The Sembler Company, which is handling retail end of the $400 million mixed-use development, said he’s not yet a liberty to announce which stores he is negotiating with, but they are all big box type of retailers that are key to establishing the shopping center.

Traditionally, developing large shopping centers begins with securing the anchor stores first, and then the smaller retailers come on board, he said. The anchor stores will occupy about 300,000 square feet, he added.

Beyer was in North Alabama on Monday and Tuesday meeting with local officials, including Madison City Council on Monday night to finalize an agreement for $3 million in tax incentives in return for constructing a series of new road improvements surrounding a new 130,000-square-foot shopping center at Browns Ferry Road and Wall Triana Highway.

Sembler was involved in the first phase of developing Valley Bend Shopping Center in Jones Valley, which now has grown into 414,000-square-foot center. It’s anchored by Hobby Lobby, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshalls, Bed Bath & Beyond, Petsmart and a SuperTarget.

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Land has been cleared of trees at the along Zierdt Road and Interstate 565 in recent weeks in preparation for development of Town Madison. The mixed-use development calls for 800,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment space plus 625,000 square feet of office space. (Photo by Paul Huggins/

View full sizeLand has been cleared of trees at the along Zierdt Road and Interstate 565 in recent weeks in preparation for development of Town Madison. The mixed-use development calls for 800,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment space plus 625,000 square feet of office space. (Photo by Paul Huggins/

Gov. Robert Bentley helped local officials break ground on Town Madison in August. In all, Town Madison will encompass 700 acres along Interstate 565 and Zierdt Road. Conceptual plans show 800,000 square feet of retail, entertainment and restaurant space. Lennar Commercial is partnering on Town Madison and is handling the commercial development of 625,000 of office space.

The land for the retail area has been cleared of trees in recent weeks, and developers continue to work on site plans for store layout and roads.

The City of Madison and Madison County Commission created a cooperative district that will allow local developer Louis Breland to take out a $20 million bond to pay for new roads and other infrastructure improvements, including a new interchange with Interstate 565. Breland will get a tax break on Town Madison until his investment is recouped.

Beyer said the new interchange and road supporting the shopping center must be complete before any of the stores will open. He anticipates opening in late 2016 or early 2017.

Town Madison developers negotiating with 10 big box stores |

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Groundbreaking set for new $34 million facility at Huntsville campus of Calhoun Community College

Rendering of $34 million facility to be built at Huntsville campus of Calhoun Community College.

Rendering of $34 million facility to be built at Huntsville campus of Calhoun Community College.

Calhoun Community College is ready to break ground on a $34 million facility at its Huntsville campus on Wynn Drive.

Retiring Calhoun President Marilyn Beck has talked about the need to expand the Huntsville campus for several years and the expansion set to take place has been in discussions for more than two years.

The groundbreaking will be Dec. 5 at 11 a.m.

Officials scheduled to attend include Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, state school board members Charles Elliott and Mary Scott Hunter and Mark Heinrich, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.

The new Math, Science and Computer Science building is a three-story facility with about 90,000 square feet. The building will be located on the west side of Wynn Drive.

The event will also serve as a farewell for Beck, who announced her retirement in August. It will be effective Dec. 31.

via Groundbreaking set for new $34 million facility at Huntsville campus of Calhoun Community College |

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1,000 new rooftops to rise on Madison’s western horizon


A thousand new residential rooftops will be popping up in eastern Limestone County, based on recent rezoning proposals to the City Council.

On Monday, the council announced public hearings on rezoning for three separate parcels totaling 176 acres. Combined with the rezoning in July of 158 acres on Huntsville Brownsferry Road, Madison can expect to add more than 1,000 single-family homes, said Mayor Troy Trulock.

“There’s another 600 in the pipeline,” he added.

The 1,000-home estimate will take two to five years to play out completely, the mayor said, so there’s going to be plenty of ongoing construction work in western Madison.

Mungo Homes will likely be the first to break ground should the rezoning requests be approved Sept. 22. It seeks to rezone 58 acres at the northwest corner of Burgreen and Powell roads from agriculture to R-3A single-family detached residential. The 58 acres will be combined with another parcel already zoned residential for a total of about 100 acres.

There’s another 600 in the pipeline.” – Mayor Troy Trulock

The largest of the three rezoning request is from Murphy Homes. It calls for 89 acres on the south side of Hardiman Road and east of Segers Road to be changed from agriculture to R-3A single-family detached residential. The smallest of the three comes from Woodland Homes. It seeks to change 29 acres from agriculture to single-family residential. The property is east Segars Road and across from the entrance to Hardin Oak Drive.

District 4 Councilman Mike Potter, who represents some areas west of County Line Road, said the growth is going to put “tremendous pressure” on Hardiman, Burgreen and Segers roads, and the city must get plans in place so the infrastructure can handle the large amount of traffic. A key part of that will be partnering with the Limestone County Commission, he added.

“Our school system’s got to be concerned, too,” District 1 Councilman Tim Holcombe said.

Potter referenced the new 700-acre Town Madison retail and commercial development as making the expected, rapid growth of new homes easier to bear.

While there’s some tax revenue generated from the construction phase of home building, he said property taxes are not enough to offset the cost of providing city services to them. Without retail taxes on the side, “rooftops translate to negative numbers.”

1,000 new rooftops to rise on Madison’s western horizon; 176 acres sought for rezoning |

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South Carolina developer will build hotel, restaurants, offices, shopping across from Big Spring International Park


As city officials including Mayor Tommy Battle, right, watch, Rece Morgan, president and CEO of Central Realty Holdings of Greenville, S.C., discusses his firm’s plans to develop the old Holiday Inn site across from Big Spring International Park in downtown Huntsville during a press conference Oct. 13, 2014.(Lee Roop/

A South Carolina company will develop the old Holiday Inn site across from Big Spring International Park in downtown Huntsville into a mixed-use area with a boutique hotel, offices, residences, restaurants and shops, city officials said today.

Central Realty Holdings of Greenville, S.C. , is the lead developer of the $70 million project called Big Spring Square that will break ground in April 2015, Mayor Tommy Battle said at a press conference. It will open in 2016.


This architect’s site plan show the layout for the planned Big Spring Square in downtown Huntsville, Ala. At left is the current Embassy Suites hotel, and Big Spring International Park is at top. Lee Roop |

None of the brand names coming in the deal – hotel, restaurants, stores – was announced Monday. The hotel will start at 100 rooms and grow, Battle said.

Battle said the proposal from Rece Morgan, president and CEO of Central Realty Holdings, hits all the marks the city wanted in the development: hotel, restaurants, retail, residential and office space. “We had four great firms that made great proposals on this,” Battle said. ” It was a tough choice.”

Under the terms of the deal, Central Realty will lease the six-acre site for 99 years, paying $144,000 per year. The city will demolish the hotel currently on the site and clear the land for the developer. The city will also do the street-side landscaping required to make the development match the park area.

City officials stressed the historic and central location being developed and said they wanted the development to enhance the area.

“Central Realty Holdings came out with a very, very good plan and one that we’re very proud of and we’re still working with them on,” Battle said. “Our Planning Department is working very hard to make sure that this development integrates very well with Big Spring Park which is the center core of our downtown area.”

Battle gave the following “data points” on the deal:

-       It will include a minimum of 28,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and offices.

-       It will include 200 residential units and a multi-level parking lot.

-       Demolition will begin in November and construction next April.

-       The city retains ownership of the land and will retain some control of the development.

Central Realty Holdings also has the first option on a second phase of the project that will involve demolishing and replacing the Jim Williams Aquatic Center. A new Natatorium is in the city’s plan for 2016.

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Madison city schools far exceed national average scores on ACT ASPIRE test

Madison City Schools’ scores far exceed the national average in all grades tested on the ACT Aspire tests, with all schools in Madison City excelling, the school district reports.

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Mill Creek Elementary School. (File photo)

Dr. Dee Fowler, superintendent of education for Madison City Schools, released the results in a districtwide communication sent Friday. The ASPIRE is the elementary and middle school equivalent of the ACT test that high school students take.

“Many had warned that since the state of Alabama was going to a nationally-normed test that our scores would falter. Not so in Madison,” Dr. Fowler said. “The high expectations and commitment to perform at a high level that you, our community and our schools possess make all the difference.”

We all know that their success begins at the earlier grades. Today, we celebrate the accomplishments of our elementary and middle schools.”

The ASPIRE tested third through eighth grade in reading and math. It replaced the ARMT-Plus and serves as an important assessment for instruction and teaching practices. Dr. Fowler said he is proud of the ASPIRE results in Madison’s elementary and middle schools.

“On many occasions we celebrate the accomplishments of our high schools for making America’s best high schools list, the impressive number of merit scholars they produce and having our seniors earn so much scholarship money,” the superintendent said. “We all know that their success begins at the earlier grades. Today, we celebrate the accomplishments of our elementary and middle schools.”

Dee Fowler
Madison Superintendent Dee Fowler (File photo)

The ASPIRE is a nationally normed test with the national average being represented by the 50th percentile. Results shared by Fowler show that Madison students were 30 points or higher than national average on 11 of 12 categories for reading and math in six different grades:

  • Third graders; reading 82 percentile; math 76 percentile
  • Four graders: reading 80 percentile; math 85 percentile
  • Fifth graders: reading 80 percentile; math 82 percentile
  • Sixth graders: reading 83 percentile; math 86 percentile
  • Seventh graders: reading 81 percentile; math 82 percentile
  • Eighth graders: reading 82 percentile; math 84 percentile

Each child that took the test will be given an individual score sheet. The Alabama Department of Education is in the process of printing these sheets, which the school district will pass on to families, along with a more detailed explanation of how to interpret the child’s scores.

This score sheet will show how he or she scored compared to the national average and will also give a readiness score. The readiness score is intended to show how well prepared the child is for further education and career training.

Madison elementary, middle schools far exceed national average scores on ACT ASPIRE test |

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Huntsville school district breaks ground on new $60 million Grissom High School


Grissom High School students – past, current and future – were part of the crowd Tuesday morning as the Huntsville school district broke ground on the school’s long-awaited new $60 million campus.

The Grissom marching band played for the crowd of parents, city leaders and school district officials, who gathered under a tent erected on the edge of the 61-acre site, located off South Memorial Parkway behind Sam’s Club. The school’s mascot, the Grissom tiger, danced as he and Tiger cheerleaders welcomed attendees to the groundbreaking, which Grissom principal June Kalange called “the start of a new era”.

Students also took part in the ceremony, including three members of Grissom’s Class of 2021 – the first class anticipated to graduate from the new school. The students are currently sixth-graders at Challenger Middle School, Mountain Gap P-8 and Whitesburg P-8.

One of those future Grissom graduates, 11-year-old Priya Morgan, said she was excited about the new campus, which she said will have state-of-the-art classrooms and labs to help ready her for college.

“I want to be a chemist,” Morgan said with a huge smile. “I like chemistry, and science is my favorite subject.”

Morgan’s mother, Preeti Francis, said she, too, is happy to see the new school on the horizon.

“Just knowing we will have the facilities to support the programs that we will need is very exciting,” Francis said. “I’ve not spent a lot of time in the current building, but I know that there are things we cannot do because the school does not have the physical capabilities.”

Huntsville Superintendent Casey Wardynski said Tuesday was a great day.

“Grissom has been an important element of the city and the school system since it was built in 1969 and first opened its doors in 1970. It’s had a long and honorable tradition of excellence and it’s been one of our key incubators for new programs,” Wardynski said.

Wardynski pointed to programs like Project Lead the Way, which started out at Grissom but this year has expanded into every school in the district. He said Grissom, along with the upcoming Jemison High School in north Huntsville, will also set the city schools on a new path of advanced manufacturing education.

“They, and our high school in the north, Jemison, will have probably two facilities that are without compare in the United States,” Wardynski said. “As well as probably the only two high schools that will have racetracks.”

Grissom and Jemison will both have racetracks as part of Huntsville’s designation as the home of Greenpower USA, the American branch of a British organization that teaches STEM education through electric car races.

Mayor Tommy Battle congratulated the district, the Grissom students and the Huntsville community.

“This is an investment that we’re making,” Battle said. “This community is investing in a school. But more than investing in a school and the education process that comes out of a school, we’re investing in a band, we’re investing in young students who will be here and will be educated here, and we’re investing in what we value as a community.

“Education is the foundation block of everything good that happens in this community, from economic development to quality of life,” Battle said.

School board president David Blair pointed out that, four years ago, the school district was struggling under massive debt and had hundreds of millions in capital needs. He credited taxpayers with seeing the need in 2012 to renew a 6.5 mill ad valorem tax that brings about $14 million per year into the school district for upgrades and new facilities.

“That was huge. That allows us to build this school, as well as others,” Blair said. “It’s a huge investment in students; it’s a huge investment in our community. And really, really, thank you for everything you have done to help this community.”

Blair and Jennie Robinson, who has represented Grissom on the school board since 2002, both praised the district’s partnerships with the city and the Madison County Commission, which they said allow projects like the new Grissom campus to move forward.

“Today we’re marking a new beginning not only for Grissom families and faculty, but for our south Huntsville community,” said Robinson, who is seeking the District 3 seat on the Huntsville City Council. “A new Grissom High School in this new location will be a magnet for growth in this area. It will revitalize an area that was depressed.”

Robinson said the new high school also marks a new beginning for the current campus, which will be turned into a municipal complex that will include a police substation, a new public library branch, a recreation center and a community theatre. Madison County Commissioner Phil Riddick and other supporters of the plan hope to raise $4 million privately to help pay for the new library.

The new Grissom, initially slated to open in August 2016, is now anticipated to open to students in January 2017.

Excitement pervades crowd as Huntsville school district breaks ground on new $60 million Grissom High School |

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