Thank goodness George Eckart, 42, has a lot of love in his heart, because all that love – plus a Vietnamese orphan who needed to be loved – saved Mr. Eckart’s life.
In 2007 – on Valentine’s Day, ironically enough – Mr. Eckart, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, underwent a physical examination to see if he was healthy enough to be an adoptive parent. He and his wife, Kristin, were seeking to adopt a child, and during the exam, his doctor discovered a “significant heart murmur,” which surprised Mr. Eckart.
“Having been in the Air Force, I’ve had a lot of physicals,” he says. “Nobody ever said anything about my heart. Plus, I had no symptoms of heart trouble. So I got an echocardiogram done, and found out I had grade 4 mitral valve leakage.”
Mr. Eckart was suffering from mitral valve prolapse with a severe leak (regurgitation), a potentially deadly condition where the heart valve doesn’t close properly, and blood can back up into the lungs.
“I was scared,” Mr. Eckart remembers. “I remembered that my mother’s brother and her father had heart attacks in their 40s, so I had a lot of sleepless nights.”
Mending his heart was imperative not just for the sake of his health, but because the Eckarts still had their hearts set on adoption. So he and his brother, who is a cardiologist, researched on the Internet and found cardiovascular surgeon A. Marc Gillinov, MD, at Cleveland Clinic’s Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute. Specializing in minimally invasive mitral valve, aortic valve and tricuspid valve surgery, Dr. Gillinov was a perfect fit for Mr. Eckart.
Mr. Eckart consulted with Dr. Gillinov, who considered him a good candidate for robotic valve repair surgery. “I was totally comfortable with robotic surgery,” Mr. Eckart says. “Being an engineer, the robotics appealed to the hi-tech side of me. Plus, they wouldn’t need to break my ribs open, which mean I’d have a quicker recovery time and smaller scars.”
The surgery was performed in May 2007 and by April 2008, the Eckarts were approved for adoption and flew to Vietnam to meet their son, Thomas. The synchronicity of it all – if the Eckarts hadn’t sought to adopt a child, then George might not have discovered his heart condition in time – isn’t lost on him: “My wife and I believe we’re all part of a bigger plan, and if it hadn’t been for Thomas here, I’d have never visited the best hospital in the world, nor been operated on by the best valve surgeon in the world.”
Today, Thomas is a precocious 2-year-old whirlwind who scoots around the floor after his toys. And Mr. Eckart has enough heart to keep up with him.