Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. revealed Wednesday that he recently underwent a rare and new procedure called NobleStitch to repair a hole in his heart. He tells CBN News he's blessed to be alive.
"The doctor who performed the surgery told me that I was very fortunate I had not had a major stroke," Falwell says. "He is the only doctor in the United States who does this procedure and people fly from all over the world to get this rare procedure done."
Dr. James Thompson, the board-certified medical director of Child Cardiology Associates, is the only person in the US who has done the procedure. So far, he's done less than 150 of them.
Falwell made the surprise announcement with the doctor at his side at Liberty University's College of Osteopathic Medicine. The event was broadcast at Liberty's Convocation, attended by thousands of students.
JUST IN: @JerryFalwellJr reveals to @thebrodyfile that he underwent rare groundbreaking surgery last month to repair a large life-threatening hole in the heart. My story on the help he received from Ben Carson and his late night phone call to President Trump coming soon.@CBNNews pic.twitter.com/4vY6eIqkt7
— David Brody (@TheBrodyFile) October 3, 2018
The NobleStitch procedure was just recently approved by the FDA and essentially allows doctors to stitch up holes in a patient's heart. Currently, the other ways to repair holes in the heart require either open-heart surgery or inserting a large metal umbrella structure in the heart.
"Dr. Ben Carson told me about this revolutionary new procedure when he spoke at Liberty University's medical school graduation back in May," Falwell tells CBN News. "They go in through your groin area and close holes in hearts. The procedure is far superior to the old method because they don't leave any device or plug in the heart."
Dr. Thompson says the problem with metal devices is that blood clots can still form (though rare) because the metal devices can erode or can react to the nickel element inside of them. In NobleStitch, there is no device in the heart so clots can't form and infections can't develop. Put simply, this is a surgical procedure without doing surgery. The stitching mechanism is inserted through the groin area and takes roughly 30 minutes.
Tony Nobles, CEO of Heartstitch, explained that he "came up with the idea looking at the Euro version of the Indiana Jones ride where there were two loop de loops."
"'Oh, there's the suture,'" he recalled thinking. "I saw it in my mind and went, 'Ok, that's it,' invented it and the rest is history."
Falwell has suffered from migraines off and on for most of his life. In 2016, he revealed that he had two small strokes. His legendary father died of cardiac arrhythmia so the younger Falwell was clearly at risk.
Everyone is actually born with a hole in their heart. Most openings close on their own a few months after birth. But for roughly one in four people, it never heals completely. Dr. Thompson says it's a potentially serious condition, especially for those who have had strokes with no clear cause and may have traditional risk factors, too.
"Anybody who has a stroke with an unidentifiable cause who has a hole in their heart should have their hole closed," Dr. Thompson said.
He warned that if nothing was done then Falwell would be at a very high risk of dying from some sort of major stroke – "or just as bad, having a massive stroke and losing the function of his speech, of sight, of the side of his body."
Falwell is close with President Donald Trump and in early September, the night before the procedure, he placed a late-night call to the commander in chief.
"I called the president the night before the procedure at 11:30 pm," Falwell recalled. "He answered the phone and I told him about it. He called me about a week later at about 11:30 pm at night and said, 'Jerry, I need you. You've got to take care of yourself. How did it go?' And then he said, 'Ben Carson told you about this?' I said, 'yes.' He said, 'Well then, I get credit right?' And I said, 'Yes, this is my reward for supporting you.'"
Falwell is clearly pleased with the results of the groundbreaking procedure.
"No more migraines," he told CBN News. "I was back in the gym a week later. I'm back to normal."
He's also clearly formed a close bond with Dr. Thompson, whom he recently greeted with a hug.
"He and I are close to the same age. We like the same kind of music - 70s rock, Pink Floyd, Creedance Clearwater Revival," Falwell noted. "We played that while we were on the operating table. I was wide awake on the operating table. I could feel the device coming up through my chest, asked for a little more sedation."
Falwell can thank NobleStitch for a "revival" right here on earth.
On Wednesday, CBN News did exclusive interviews with Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Dr. James Thompson at Liberty University. You can see a full report on Thursday's "The 700 Club" and on CBN's "Faith Nation" Wednesday evening at 6:00 pm ET on the CBN News Channel.