Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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March 4, 2011

Tony Romo helps arrange grandpa's life-saving surgery

PALESTINE — Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has launched a few "Hail Marys" over his eight-year NFL career.

Off the field, none was bigger than when he took control of his grandfather’s life-and-death heart condition.

In 2009, Ramiro Romo, 77, felt he was taking his last breath after years of deteriorating health and no indication of what was wrong.

“My husband was dying,” said his wife, Felicita.

Then grandson Tony paid a visit and got so alarmed he called the Cowboys team doctor. He referred the grandfather to Dr. Michael Donsky, a cardiologist at Baylor Hospital's Jack and Jane Hamilton Heart and Vascular Center in Dallas.

An examination determined Ramiro Romo had a condition known as mitral valve regurgitation or leaking heart valve.

But doctors felt he couldn’t survive the traditional surgery to fix the problem due to his age. They recommended he become a medical first -- a guinea pig, if you will -- for an experimental procedure that clipped together the leaflets of the heart's mitral valve to reduce leakage.

After much consideration and prayer – and filling out a stack of paperwork – Romo agreed to undergo the "MitraClip" operation in late 2009 even though the device had yet to receive final approval from the Federal Drug Administration.

Ramiro said his quarterback grandson encouraged him to proceed.

“He said, 'Grandpa it will be a good deed to put your life on the table to save others. We will be so proud of you,'" recalled Ramiro.

The Romos were told the surgery would take about six hours. When the doctors came out 47 minutes later, the family could not believe they were finished.

“The doctors, nurses, and anesthetists came out dancing,” said Felicita. “They had the biggest smiles on their faces and were so happy. They said, ‘We’re finished. He’s OK.’”

But the family purposely waited a year to publicly discuss the surgery that saved Ramiro's life because he wanted to make sure it worked.

“This surgery is a miracle,” said his wife. “He is doing really well. God is so awesome to us.”

That includes, she said, having a grandson who can throw a "Hail Mary" off the football field as well as on it.

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