UAB patient shares inspiring story of living with congenital heart disease to offer hope

Bill Wingate with family

Throughout the course of his life, University of Alabama at Birmingham patient Bill Wingate has had four open heart surgeries, seven heart valve replacements and multiple heart catheterizations. Wingate is one of the estimated 2 million people living with a congenital heart defect, and this Heart Month, Wingate is using his story to inspire others.


Wingate learned of his congenital heart defect in his early 20s after seeking medical attention for neck pain. During the check-up, his physician noticed a loud heart murmur, which sometimes indicates a serious heart problem. His physician referred him to a cardiologist and determined that Wingate needed open heart surgery.

Wingate was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve. The aortic valve typically has three flaps, also known as cusps, that make blood flow in the right direction. Someone with a bicuspid aortic valve has only two cusps, making the heart work harder to pump blood throughout the body.

“At the time of my diagnosis, I was in college and thought I was in good health,” Wingate said. “When I learned that I needed open heart surgery, I was scared, concerned and anxious. I was living in what many would consider the prime of my life, so this news was a big setback and shock to me and my family.”


Within six months, Wingate had his first open heart surgery, performed by Albert D. Pacifico, M.D., former chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the UAB Cardiovascular Institute, who is now retired. Pacifico did a Ross procedure — a surgical procedure in which the diseased heart valve is replaced with the pulmonary valve from the patient, and the patient’s pulmonary valve is replaced by one from a human donor.

“A Ross procedure uses a replacement valve from the patient’s own body, which is more durable and lasts longer than other tissue valves,” said James Davies, M.D., director of the UAB Cardiovascular Institute and one of Wingate’s physicians. “Ross procedures decrease the need for blood thinners and provide patients with the ability to live an active lifestyle. UAB is one of the select hospitals in the nation that perform this procedure.”

It was estimated that the valve would last anywhere from 10-15 years; Wingate was able to make it 16 years before needing a replacement. Throughout his life, Wingate has continued to have check-up and follow-up procedures at UAB to repair and maintain his heart health. Most recently, he had his fourth open heart surgery in January 2023.

Although living with his congenital heart defect has come with its challenges, Wingate says he is grateful for the things he has been able to enjoy thanks to his care at UAB.

“UAB is the standard of care in this region,” Wingate said. “My care at UAB has allowed me more time with my wife and daughter, and I am so grateful for everything my care team has done for me and my family.”

A story of resilience

Wingate hopes his story can offer hope to others who may have a similar experience.

“Bill is a great patient and a great guy,” Davies said. “He and his wife are always so supportive of what we do at UAB and of other families who have children with congenital heart defects. His resilience and positive attitude are inspiring. He uses his condition to encourage and motivate others and show them that people can have a good quality of life with this condition.”

Wingate’s mission through sharing his story with people is to give them hope.

“Anyone that is going through a significant heart issue, be it a surgery or anything like that, I want them to know that, with the right team and the right people to support them, there is always hope,” Wingate said. “The science is getting better. You can make it through, but you may have to reevaluate your life and shift your priorities to adjust your life based on what you can do.”

Wingate says that through his faith, he stays hopeful and practices gratitude. These are what help him make it through the tough days.

“There are days when I just do not feel like doing anything, but I focus on how grateful I am that I wake up to another day,” Wingate said. “I had to really learn how to prioritize the things that matter most to me in life and set time aside for those things. By sharing my story, I hope to help others learn how to have a full life with this condition.”

Over the past year since his fourth open-heart surgery, he has been able to connect with other heart patients across the globe. His message to them, based on his experiences, is to “love a little deeper, be grateful for what you have, be kind and hopeful always.”

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