MARIETTA, Ga. - Cobb County Assistant Solicitor General Steven Ellis never imagined he would be a heart disease survivor. Back in 2015, when the now 37-year old prosecutor started having trouble catching his breath, he figured he was too young at 34, for heart problems. But, he mentioned the fluttering feeling to his doctor during his yearly physical.
"I am one of those rare men who doesn't hate (going to) the doctor, I actually go in for my checkup," Ellis says.
He told his doctor his heart would sometimes race, for now, reason, like he was having a panic attack.
So, the doctor listened to his heart.
"He moves his stethoscope around in a really deliberate manner," Ellis says. "And, I'm like, 'What's going on here? " And, he says, "You know, you've got a really loud heart murmur."
That murmur, cardiologist Dr. Joel Wachs discovered, was a sign of a significant heart valve leak.
The Medical Director of WellStar Cardiovascular Medicine diagnosed Ellis with a mitral valve prolapse.
Wachs says some people he says have no symptoms. Others may experience warning signs like fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath, especially with exercise.
"The good news for him is he wasn't very symptomatic, and he was in otherwise good health, and young," Wachs says. "His problem was discovered relatively early."
Dr. Wachs believes Steven Ellis was likely born with weakened valve tissue, which lead to the tear that was now causing blood to back up in the wrong direction in his heart. Wachs recommended surgery to fix the problem.
"He said, 'If we don't fix this, eventually you're going to have congestive heart failure,'" Ellis remembers.
The left side of his heart was already slightly enlarged from working harder to get around the leak.
In August of 2015, Ellis underwent surgery to repair and shore up the leaky valve.
As soon as he recovered, he says, he started making some serious lifestyle changes.
"Back then I was probably about 30 pounds heavier than I was now," Ellis says. "I drank a lot of soda, ate a lot of red meat. I've changed all that."
Today, he's back on his game. No more symptoms. And Steven Ellis says he's telling his story because he is living proof no one is too young for heart disease.
"My message to people is get an annual physical, and if things don't seem right, to go to the doctor and get it checked out," he says.