LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (WXIA) -- Eyasu Woldekirkos, 29, of Ethiopia was bed-ridden with a bad heart before life-saving surgery at Gwinnett Medical Center.
"He had a copy of an echocardiogram, which showed he had more severe heart disease than I've ever seen," said Atlanta-area cardiologist Dr. Michael Lipsitt.
Dr. Lipsitt met Eyasu during a medical mission trip to Ethiopia back in April.
Dr. Lipsitt was there to volunteer at a clinic run by the Atlanta-based nonprofit Jewish Healthcare International.
"He came to us and asked and JHI as an organization was able to help coordinate the transportation and logistics to get him over here for surgery," said Julie Kaminsky, Program Director at JHI.
On November 1, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. David Langford performed a rare, complex triple valve replacement at Gwinnett Medical Center.
The damage to Eyasu's heart was even worse than Dr. Lipsitt imagined.
"It was obvious he was suffering from advanced heart disease involving multiple valves from rheumatic fever," he said.
Rheumatic fever has been nearly wiped away in the U.S., but not in Ethopia, where doctors told Eyasu he would not survive.
He talked to 11Alive's Jennifer Leslie through a translator, Muluken Messele, who traveled with him to the U.S.
"I was a dead person in Ethiopia," he said. "My hope of surviving is coming again to my heart. I'm very happy."
Eyasu is staying with Dr. Lipsitt and his wife Jeanne during his recovery. He's expected to return home to Ethiopia by the end of November.
"There's no words to express how you feel when something works and a dream kind of comes true," Dr. Lipsitt said.
He said he's thankful to JHI and U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell), who helped secure travel documents for Eyasu.