At 95 open heart surgery is daunting. But with support from his two sons and fierce determination, Wallace Birr of Chagrin Falls made up his mind that he was going to be healthy again.
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In September, Mr. Birr underwent surgery to repair his aortic valve with cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Lars Svensson. Just four months later, he is busy doing his daily exercises and baking his favorite healthy breads.
“I was amazed at how interested Dr. Svensson, Dr. Barzilai and the whole medical team were in getting to know me,” says Mr. Birr of his experience. “People were so kind and have been there to help me through this entire process.”
“My father is part of that ‘Greatest Generation’ which made America great,” says son Jeff, referring to the term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw to describe those who grew up during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. “He has more courage and fight than anyone I know.”
His journey into war began as a young man when he approached a military recruiter on the street in downtown Cleveland in 1941. Within a few weeks he was in an accelerated 90-day program to become a U.S. Navy officer. The following summer he was on an LST (landing ship tanks) ship charting the waters from the Aleutian Islands to Iwo Jima. He remembers having his own cabin and trying to help another young man overcome his fear of torpedoes striking the ship.
Going further back, Mr. Birr remembers waving the flag while riding his toy car and shouting “war is over” with great enthusiasm. He was just 2 years old and a family member had stopped by to celebrate the end of World War I. Just over a decade later in 1929, Mr. Birr remembers his father losing his job during the Great Depression. The family had just purchased a new home on the West Side of Cleveland. He was 13 years old and it was rough times.
Today, Mr. Birr prefers to remember the good things. He recalls many camping trips with sons Bob and Jeff and his late wife Ruth. “We had great times, and my wife was just one of the guys with her boys and me,” he reflects. And he has many stories from his days as a sales accounting manager for M.A. Hanna, the same iron ore processing company he had been working for before joining the Navy. He retired from Hanna in 1981 after 40 years of service.
These days, Mr. Birr enjoys doing physical therapy with son Jeff by his side. “We’ve always been a close family,” says Jeff. “And thanks to the surgery, we have more time to spend with Dad.”