ST. LOUIS – Patrick Sullivan was born with a heart murmur. Doctors told him he’d never be able to play contact sports.

“When I was a kid, I was told it was kind of like a little small hole in my heart, and that I’ll be monitored for the rest of my life, but it was like every five years or so,” Sullivan said.

His parents encouraged him to take up swimming, which he pursued competitively with a USA Swimming club. His passion for the sport continued into adulthood.

“In Iowa, they had the National State Games two years ago, and I swam in three events,” Sullivan said. “I won in my age group.”

These accolades are particularly significant given the health challenges he faced just 18 months prior. Doctors discovered an aortic aneurysm and a bicuspid aortic valve.

“A bicuspid aortic valve is a valve with two leaflets,” Sullivan said. “Most people are born with valves with three leaflets, and so it causes usually higher blood pressure, which can frequently lead to aneurysms in the aortic vessel.”

Sullivan’s aneurysm had grown to a dangerous size, putting him at risk of a rupture. In 2021, he underwent open-heart surgery at St. Luke’s in Chesterfield, where he received an Inspiris Resilia aortic valve. Despite the severity of his condition, Sullivan’s determination saw him returning to competitive swimming as soon as he could.

“I went back at seven weeks because the sternum had to heal. It was a very emotional moment for me,” he said, noting his achievement of swimming more than a mile in his first session back.

Earlier this month, Sullivan experienced another emotional milestone. He traveled to Irvine, California, to meet the team at Edwards Lifesciences, the company that manufactured his life-saving valve.

“It was just such a great honor to thank them and to kind of share my story with them and I think that helps them to see who they’re making the valves for,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan now advocates for regular check-ups and emphasizes the importance of being proactive about heart health.

“In my situation, the doctor didn’t think I was at the threshold for surgery. I listened, talking to other people that have gone through it before. I actually did my own medical journal research and asked for a second opinion (from someone) who agreed with my assessment that I thought I would be a candidate for surgery,” he said.

At 46, Sullivan not only keeps up with his wife and two young daughters, but he continues to inspire the swimmers he coaches at the South City YMCA. He is also preparing to compete in his second national competition next month in Indianapolis.