Gordon Ball Contributes to Heart and Lung Research

Ball's generous gift was inspired by the quality of care he received at UAB and the compassion and humanity he encountered along the way.

GordonBallwWhat began with a life-saving second opinion evolved into a series of extraordinary friendships for Knoxville, Tenn.-based attorney Gordon Ball. He was inspired to make a generous gift to the UAB Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery by the quality of care he received at UAB and the compassion and humanity he encountered along the way. In 2009, the normally energetic lawyer realized that he felt unusually tired and depleted. “I just assumed it meant I was getting older,” Ball says. When the problem became too pronounced to ignore, he consulted with a local cardiologist who diagnosed him with arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and recommended a conversion to return the heart to its normal rhythm. The procedure was unsuccessful, and in January 2010, Ball’s cardiologist referred him to a local surgeon for a surgical ablation, which also failed to correct the arrhythmia and left him feeling worse than ever. “It was awful,” Ball recalls. “I was as sick as I’d ever been after that surgery. I lost about 20 pounds.” He began to suspect that a leaking mitral valve, which his cardiologist had diagnosed but insisted could be managed with medication, might be a greater problem than he’d been advised. Ball informed his cardiologist that he wanted a second opinion, and the cardiologist referred him to Vance J. Plumb, M.D., a cardiovascular disease specialist at The Kirklin Clinic at UAB.

A twist of fate brought Ball into the first of a series of unexpected friendships. One day while on the golf course, Ball mentioned to a golf buddy that he had an appointment scheduled with Plumb at The Kirklin Clinic in Birmingham. His friend said, “That’s my dad’s doctor.” After further conversation, Ball realized that his golf buddy was Murry Bartow, head basketball coach for East Tennessee State University and son of the legendary Gene Bartow, who started the athletic program at UAB in 1977. When the day of the appointment arrived, Ball was met at The Kirklin Clinic by Gene Bartow, who said he wanted to be there to introduce him to Plumb. “Gene and I became very close friends after that,” Ball says.

Plumb confirmed the arrhythmia diagnosis and also informed Ball that his mitral valve had collapsed — a life-threatening condition. With the words, “We’re going to fix your mitral valve,” Plumb introduced Ball to David C. McGiffin, M.D., deputy director of the UAB Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery and a renowned surgeon. McGiffin performed the surgery that finally corrected Ball’s arrhythmia and repaired the collapsed mitral valve. It wasn’t only McGiffin’s skill as a surgeon that impressed Ball; it was also his easy manner and obvious humanity. “I’m a lawyer, and doctors don’t tend to like lawyers as a general rule, but we became fast friends,” Ball says. “He truly has empathy for people.”

With the announcement earlier this year that McGiffin would be returning to his native Australia, Ball says he hopes his gift will help the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery find a suitable replacement — although he knows replacing such a skilled and compassionate surgeon will be difficult. “Rarely in life do you encounter a person who is the complete package in his profession. David McGiffin is the complete package. He is a great surgeon with an even better heart and bedside manner. I hope the money, in a small way, will allow some person to have the caliber of medical care that I received from UAB and that they can find another David McGiffin.”

According to James K. Kirklin, M.D., director of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, “By providing resources to assist with recruiting a world-class cardiothoracic surgeon to UAB, Mr. Ball’s generous gift to the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery helps to ensure that future patients receive the same excellent level of care that he personally received.”