Mother and son recover from same heart condition, open-heart surgery

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — There’s a bond like no other between one mother and son who share a rare experience that helped prolong their life.

“Oh my gosh that’s hard to put into words,” said Kathy Chelton.

Ahead of Mother’s Day with her son Carter Chelton, 19, by her side, they reflected on their unique connection.

“I hate that saying because it’s so overused — to the moon and back — but it’s true, just more than you can describe,” she said about the love for her son.

Their bond is shared in a way Chelton could not imagine when her son was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse as a child.

“It never really crossed my mind that one of my kids would get it especially this early,” she said.

The condition, which was monitored since Chelton was in elementary school, began to take a turn when she said doctors noticed her son’s heart was becoming enlarged and surgery or. worst-case scenario, a transplant may be required.

“I didn’t really expect to have surgery ever, but about two years ago they noticed my heart was starting to get a little larger,” he said.

Last summer the family made the trip from Liberty, Missouri to the Cleveland Clinic for open-heart surgery. The trip was not as daunting as imagined because the family had been through the ordeal before.

“I had been through it myself. I knew what it was like. I knew the faith we had in Cleveland Clinic,” Chelton said.

She was diagnosed with the same condition and had open-heart surgery in 2017, also at the Cleveland Clinic, and was operated on by the same doctor who would later treat her son.

“I remember operating on the mom and thinking she’s young and healthy,” said Dr. Marc Gillinov, Chairman of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.

He said signs of the condition can be asymptomatic or subtle, including shortness of breath and fatigue. Those who experience this particular valve condition usually present issues around the age of 58.

“If the mitral valve has prolapsed and then begins to leak and it leaks a lot, that can lead to heart failure and death,” said Dr. Gillinov.

The surgery and recovery were life-changing for Chelton who said he was sad to leave the hospital and realized he was pursuing the wrong career path. He switched his college major to biochemistry and plans to become a heart surgeon. Chelton’s goal is to one day help families like his own.

“We have a special connection not everybody can say yeah we went through heart surgery,” she said with a laugh. 

“That’s a bond that’s kind of cool but hard to describe….it’s hard knowing your sons’ heart is literally in the hands of someone else, but I took great comfort in knowing that Dr. Gillinov is one of the best.”

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