Man had heart condition that many people don't realize they have

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- A Flagstaff man -- A runner and avid climber who thought he was in good health -- had a stroke, and it was triggered by a condition that nearly a quarter of Americans have, and may not know it.

One doctor says while many people live with this condition, most go all their lives without even knowing it, because they don't have any symptoms. Treating it used to mean major surgery and months of recovery, but new technology is changing that.

Chris Budwig still recalls the day he got a stroke in 2018.

"I wanted to pick up the magazine," said Budwig. "I could say in my head that I wanted to pick up the magazine, but my body wasn't responding."

Budwig was diagnosed with Patent Foramen Ovale, a hidden heart condition that 1/4th of Americans are born with. It's a condition involving a small hole in between the two chambers of the heart. In the past, doctors would have recommend open heart surgery to close the hole. Now, there is a much less invasive procedure, called a PFO closure, that needs just a small incision.

"It's done through the femoral vein, which is a large vein in your leg," said Budwig's doctor, Gopi Cherukuri, a cardiologist at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital. Dr. Cherukuri says the procedure takes less than an hour.

"You use imaging, both the X-Rays and ultrasound," said Dr. Cherukuri. "There's one disk, that disk will go on the left side of the heart."

A second disk then seals the hole. After Budwig's surgery, instead of having a huge scar left on his chest, he was left with something much less visible.

"Small bruise on my groin," said Budwig. "When I got done, I wanted to drive home. They made me stay one night, just to make sure."

Budwig does have some numbness from the stroke, but is grateful for this new technology.

"I could have been on a breathing tube or something like that, so each day is a blessing," said Budwig.

Dr. Cherukuri says there's no testing done on folks to see if they have this heart condition before a stroke occurs. He recommends eating healthy, and exercising often. Meanwhile, Budwig says he's continuing to stay active, no longer drinks alcohol, and has cut down on the amount of meat he consumes.

Patent Foramen Ovale information:

Mayo Clinic -

American Heart Association