Drew McCartt

Heart Disease Thriver


My Story

I was diagnosed with congenital heart disease at the age of 15 (1977) during a high school sports physical required to compete in cross country and track.

One week after the physical, a pediatric cardiologist performed an exam and tests which clearly indicated I had aortic valvular insufficiency and would have to have my valve replaced most likely by the time I was 30. But he said, there was no rush as my heart and valve were still strong and could take the demands of running competitively, at least for now. Further, both viable and reliable tissue and artificial valve replacements, currently being developed through the American Heart Association funded research, needed to be further refined and tested. In 1977, coincidentally, the first St Jude Medical (now Abbott) Bileaflet pyrolytic carbon valve was implanted successfully in a human.

Timing was good. Fate was in my favor.

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Abbott Bileaflet Artificial Heart Valve

Abbott Bileaflet Artificial Heart Valve

I became a top distance running competitor through high school and college, and then began triathlons in grad school. But the time came, June 10th, 1988, just 10 months after getting married, and the same day I was to graduate with my Master’s Degree - I had my heart valve replaced with a St Jude Medical Bileaflet valve.  

Five weeks after my surgery I was back to enjoying life with Gwen, scuba diving, running and working – in essence thriving.

Just seven years later, during my annual cardio tests, I was diagnosed with an ascending aortic aneurysm. This was serious and would require even a more difficult surgery. But with great medical care and more AHA funded research and advancement, my surgery was fortunately delayed 18 years until research caught up with the disease. That was February 2014…. Today, I continue to thrive and give back to the AHA as an active volunteer now for 28 years.

There is so much necessary research yet to be done so we can save and improve more lives, and further, researchers with viable projects are looking for that critical funding.  After all, the incredible processes of performing open heart surgery and CPR, and the most advanced cardiovascular medicines were all developed through AHA funded research.


Click below to see a slideshow of how Drew continues to thrive today.